Taking notes: one-on-one with musicians Joshua Bell and Peter Dugan

Posted on October 10, 2022

Violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Peter Dugan answer questions from music students on the Tew Recital Hall stage.

When Joshua Bell and Peter Dugan walked onstage at UNC Greensboro’s Tew Recital Center, Bell’s violin stayed in its case. There was not a piano in sight.

Instead of weaving together the notes of Schubert or Beethoven – that was saved for their evening performance in the University Lecture and Concert Series – they wove stories of personal experiences and encouragement for the School of Music students who came to their masterclass.

Violin Professor Marjorie Bagley moderated as students asked them about structuring a daily routine, resolving creative conflicts with colleagues, and fighting burnout. Bell and Dugan, taking time out of their international tour together, delved into the physical demands of mastering a piece and setting one’s performance apart from the rest.

“The importance for any artist, no matter how established, is to feel like you’re an eternal student,” said Bell, who has won GRAMMY, Mercury, Gramophone, and OPUS KLASSIK awards over his career spanning four decades. “You’re always learning. Even the pieces that I’ve played a lot, I have to go back and look at them fresh.”

Honest questions, straightforward answers

Senior music education major and viola player Allen Sanderson has attended several masterclasses at UNCG. “Our professors have a lot of good connections and invite some important musicians to talk,” he said. “I try to go to all of them that I can. Joshua Bell’s probably the biggest name so far.”

Laurel Meitrodt, another music education major, asked how they combat frustration while trying to master a difficult piece.

Both Dugan and Bell stressed the benefits of practicing under tempo. Taking it slow, they said, can pay off in practice and keep a musician composed during a performance.

“When you’re doing a concert, your metabolism speeds up,” Bell explained. “Time gets distorted. Then, if you try to slow down, sometimes that’s where your fingers trip over themselves. But if you’ve really practiced everything at every speed, then it’s in your fingers, not just ‘finger memory.'”

Meitrodt, who went to practice violin immediately after the masterclass, appreciated the musicians’ candor. “They’ve gone through the things we go through now,” she says. “It’s interesting to see the ways musicians think so similarly as well as differently.”

Sanderson enjoyed learning how they keep a balanced and healthy life amid the demands of traveling around the world. “It’s nice to hear you can be ultra-successful and still take Sunday off to watch football or play video games. Music careers can last for a lifetime. So, when thinking about playing for another 50 years, it’s okay to take a few days off.”

Advice put into practice

The speaker shared their practice techniques: Bell recommended setting achievable goals for each session, especially if they know their time is limited. Dugan said he once shook things up by playing his rhythm drills to Cardi B music instead of the metronome.

“It’s fun when you can bring an element of improvisation and creatively try to solve problems,” he explained.

Junior Cady Robison said the experience instilled confidence. “I was excited to hear that there’s a lot of different things you can do with music. We’re getting our degrees in music education, but it doesn’t mean we’ll only ever stand at a podium. We can join jazz ensembles. We can do chamber music. We have those options, especially since we have so many connections through the School of Music.”

That is a point that Dugan stressed to the students. “It’s easy to think there’s an ideal vision of success for a career,” he said, “When in fact there are so many careers. A lot of what will determine your personal success is knowing where you find happiness, balance, and healthiness. Start now. Figure out what music makes you happy, what kind of music, and how you share it.”

Story by Janet Imrick, University Communications
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications

Student playing the violin

Fine-tune your music goals at UNCG

Long recognized as one of the top music institutions in the United States, the UNCG School of Music offers the only comprehensive degrees in music education and music performance in the State of North Carolina, from the undergraduate level through doctoral study.


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