The past two years have seen a lot of technological innovation in the world of music education. New tools, like Forte, have emerged that make it possible for music teachers to do their best teaching online.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Chris LeDoux, a 15-year-old trumpet player from Staten Island, New York, who was accepted into the NYO2 (a Carnegie Hall run program) and the New York Youth Symphony. He has been using Forte for over a year. In his interview below, Chris shares how he overcame the technological issues initially presented by online lessons, and how Forte has helped him grow as a successful young musician.
DF: Hi Chris! Could you start off by telling me a little bit about your musical background?
CL: All right. I’ve been playing the trumpet for roughly eight years now and I am in the 10th grade…Throughout that time, I was in my local borough-wide program, and then from there, I transitioned into a city-wide jazz program. Over the past few years, I started to pick up orchestral trumpet.
The New York Pops has a program called “Kids on Stage” where they select 20 student musicians from New York to play with the orchestra at their birthday gala, which I was part of. That really started to ignite my passion for orchestral trumpet. From the program, I was awarded a scholarship to French Woods, which is a performing arts camp in upstate New York. That was really what introduced me to serious orchestral trumpet. I played my first large orchestral piece, which was “Mars” from The Planets. After that, I played in NYO2 (The National Youth Orchestra) for two years. Most recently, I was accepted into the New York Youth Symphony, and I also was a finalist in the youth division of the International Trumpet Guild Competition.
Additionally, I play in multiple school ensembles, including the concert band, the select band, and the jazz band, which is the school’s top group.
DF: It sounds like you keep very busy with various ensembles. How long have you been taking private lessons?
CL: I’ve been taking lessons for eight years… It was through NYO2 that I was introduced to Liam [Liam Day, Forte’s Artistic and Education Director], and Liam and I have been working together for about two years now.
DF: When you started with Liam, what platform were you using?
CL: At first, we started with FaceTime and Zoom. FaceTime and Zoom often lagged due to internet issues so we couldn’t play together. Additionally, the sound wasn’t very crisp and it would cut out often. But when Liam started working with Forte, we switched to that platform. This platform allowed us to have more productive lessons, play together, listen to each other, and communicate much easier and more.
DF: So you’ve been on Forte for the past year or so, which means you’ve gotten to experience all of the updates and upgrades that Forte has had throughout the pandemic. Have you noticed a difference in the performance?
CL: Definitely. The appearance has changed a great deal with the whole concept of a studio. I find that very interesting. The communication system is very efficient. Chat makes file sending convenient; Liam and I constantly send each other different scores and fundamental books that we can work on together. The screen-sharing is great–we can always read music off the screen with one another. I enjoy using the software.
DF: That’s really good to hear–I’m glad you like the platform. Can you tell me a little bit about how the pandemic has affected your progress on your instrument?
CL: The pandemic was obviously unfortunate, but I was very lucky from a musical standpoint. When it commenced, I was just finishing off my eighth-grade year. I was just selected by the New York Pops to be part of the “Kids on Stage” program, but in response to the pandemic, they quickly transitioned to virtual. That gave me the ability to continue playing at a high level. When I received my NYO2 acceptance, the program was also transitioned to virtual platforms, so we were able to practice and perform with the orchestra virtually. I was still able to practice at home, but taking lessons was hard. I was FaceTiming my previous teacher, but then when I met Liam, we started to use Forte which made a world of a difference.
DF: So you’ve experienced both in-person lessons and online lessons. Can you tell me what you’d like about the online lessons in particular?
CL: I think the convenience of online lessons is the best part about them. With in-person lessons, you could hear live sound and watch what was going on. I must say, with Forte, the program does a great job from the aspect of replicating the in-person feel. [With Forte,] Liam and I are able to see each other clearly. For instance, he’ll say “Chris, you’re looking tense”, “Chris, fix your posture”, and “Chris, try adjusting your embouchure a little bit, fix your mouthpiece positioning on your lips”. Every minuscule detail that he’s able to see through the camera gives him the ability to pick it out and then help me. So, really there’s not a lot that you really can’t do on Forte that you could do in person except the live sound, but the sound quality is great. I could still hear Liam very well.
DF: Could you share some of the successes that you’ve had since you started taking online lessons?
CL: Sure. I was a finalist for the International Trumpet Guild Youth Competition. That was a competition where you were asked to play an etude. I was accepted into NYO2 for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. And then most recently I was accepted into the New York Youth Symphony for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
DF: So how has your experience been so far with the New York Youth Symphony? Can you talk a little bit about that?
CL: It’s an awesome experience. I’m one of the youngest brass players the orchestra has seen. Everyone else is in college, so I am constantly learning a lot from my older peers. They’re always giving me little tips, tricks, and pieces of advice to help my playing. The orchestra also pushes me to practice harder and strive for that new goal every couple of weeks being that everyone is older. Because I see the people around me, all my peers excelling, I want to be able to keep up.
DF: That’s great to hear you’re getting so much out of the New York Youth Symphony. What’s next? What do the next couple of years look like for you?
CL: Liam has mentioned the possibility of applying to some festivals, like the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, Tanglewood, Aspen, and a bunch of other festivals that he wants me to check out for more playing experience.
This summer I plan to attend French Woods Camp of the Performing Arts and hopefully be a member of their concerto night!
I guess after that, I’m not really sure exactly. I definitely want to pursue music throughout my life.