One-on-One Music Lessons Can Count for Credits
This year I decided to take up a unique opportunity presented to me at York and learn an instrument. York has one of the largest fine arts faculties (called Schol of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design) in Canada, so when I found out that professor Irene Markoff (PhD in Ethnomusicology) was offering private lessons for a traditional 7-stringed Turkish instrument called baglama, I just had to enroll. Though the course was quite pricey and you were required to bring your own instrument, York students do receive credits for private-lesson courses. When enrolling, I could choose between a full-hour or a half-hour class per week. I decided on the shorter classes for an entire year, because it seemed the most realistic with my busy school schedule.
Learn At Your Own Pace
When you take private-lesson courses, you have to take responsibility for your own progress. If you put in the time to practice, you can excel at a faster pace and learn more material. It is really helpful working one-on-one with a professor, because the teacher is focused solely on your progress and helps you learn at a pace you are comfortable with. Especially given that I had no previous formal experience with the instrument, Professor Markoff has been very patient and encouraging during the course. For the first month of my classes, I basically learned the notes and how to read music. After I became comfortable with this aspect of music, we practiced exercises and then worked on learning songs for the remainder of the first semester. Dr. Markoff was always open to suggestions, and being able to select the songs to learn together with her made practicing and playing that much more enjoyable.
Working with Professor Markoff
Professor Markoff has been with York for more than 15 years. She received her PhD in Ethnomusicology, a really fascinating program. In ethnomusicology, candidates study music and culture together. Part of their program requires them to engage in “participant observation,” so Professor Markoff spent two years studying in Istanbul, Turkey, where she involved herself in Turkish culture by learning the language, taking music lessons and researching the history and people of Turkey. For this reason she has also studied Alevi/Bektashi music and Sufi mysticism. Professor Markoff is ethnically Bulgarian and has also spent time studying in the Balkans. She speaks many Slavic languages and dialects, besides the Turkish I already mentioned!
Professor Markoff teaches a variety of courses such as “The Balkan Music Ensemble,” “Balkan Vocal Music,” “Popular Music of the World” and “Music in the Modern Era” in the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD). She shared that she found teaching courses like “The Balkan Music Ensemble,” where a group of multicultural students comes together to enjoy music, makes for the most memorable and enjoyable part of her career: “Many times, the same song is sung in more than one language, and it is always inspiring to see my students willing to practice the same piece of music in a number of languages. I am always so impressed at how supportive and inclusive the environment of our ensemble is regardless of each students level and musical ability. The music they make together is beautiful.”
Professor Markoff and a group of her students from York recently started their own band called Meden Glas, which performs traditional and contemporary Balkan folk music from Eastern Europe. Check out their Official Facebook page for more!
Members of Meden Glas (left to right): Nadia Younan (vocals & sax), Ekaterina Pyatkova (vocals & drum), Geoff Cook (vocals), Dr. Irene Markoff (vocals, accordion & bağlama) Jamieson Eakin (vocals & guitar) and Mario Morello (vocals, flute & drum).
You can have a listen to Meden Glas’s first single below; their album was released on March 20, 2015.
Lots of Practice Space
If you are interested in taking music courses during your undergrad degree, one-on-one music courses are fantastic, because you are able to agree on your hours with your professor and then set your own time aside to study. Most music courses within AMPD are held in the Accolade West Building, which boasts an entire floor of soundproof practice rooms equipped with a mirror, piano, desk, outlets and a chalkboard with a musical staff and music stands. York University students can purchase swipe cards from the Music Department office that will give them access to the study rooms year round. The Accolade West Building also has state-of-the-art studios and performance halls.
As part of the course, I was expected to perform the music I learned in front of a jury in April. It resembled taking a final exam, except that two music professors marked me on my performance. An experience like this definitely surpasses my comfort zone, but it is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try something new!
If you’re contemplating taking an AMPD course as an elective, I can only recommend it. I am extremely happy to have embarked on this musical adventure and am proud of how much it taught me.
Feel free to tweet me at @yorkustudents if you have questions about music at York or AMPD. . . . Gotta go practice now!