Back to School


Today, the school year begins here in Cincinnati, and as a parent of two, I couldn’t be happier. Even better is the news that Cincinnati Public Schools is putting the arts front and center at two magnet elementary schools, and I’m pleased to announce that 4-Way will begin its education program this year at one of them!

As part of its Vision 2020 plan, CPS has designated Woodford Paideia to be one of its specialized schools, with an emphasis on strings – that’s where we come in. There will also be a band program at Chase Elementary in Northside, as well as programs built around tech, entrepreneurship, and environmental stewardship at various other schools around the city. To make the arts the central, defining feature of two elementary schools is a bold step, and I hope we can help CPS make the case that all schools should have the same opportunity.

Today, 4-Way will perform for the entire school. Beginning in October, once a week, we will come in and teach chamber music and ensemble skills to the 5th and 6th grade orchestra classes. We’ll also begin identifying kids to join our free, after-school lesson and chamber music program, which will start in January. By the spring, we hope to have the kids performing short pieces, both as soloists and in groups without a conductor!

This will take a lot of help, from Woodford’s students, parents, teachers and staff, and we’ll need your help too! We’ve already secured grants from ArtsWave and the Ohio String Teachers Association, and will be doing lots of fundraising this fall to raise more money for the program. Here are three ways you can help us:

  • We’ll be performing a series of house concert fundraisers – if you’d like to host one, click here to e-mail me.
  • In a few weeks, we’ll begin an Indiegogo campaign – we’d love to hear your suggestions for 4-Way swag to be given to donors, so please post them in the comments, or e-mail us!
  • If you’d like to contribute directly, click here to go to the Paypal site set up by our fiscal agent, the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, to accept tax-deductible donations to 4-Way’s education program. You can also find the link to donate at our website,

Sorry, got to get to class now! More news soon – thanks for your support!


Thank You For Your Service

As some readers know, I spent eight years as a member of “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra. As the name implies, I spent most of my time in uniform at the White House or in other government buildings, performing for various official gatherings. I also got to play a lot of great chamber music, as well as two concertos with orchestra, and made some great friends.

The picture above is one of my favorite moments at the White House, at a Christmas party for members of the Secret Service (the kid’s father was an agent, I believe):

Shortly after I got the job, I spoke with one of my teachers, the Danish cellist Erling Blondal Bengtsson, who was as kind and gentle a person one could ever hope to meet.

The first thing he asked me was “Do you get a gun?” When I told him no, he seemed a little disappointed. This was the first of many conversations I would have (and still have) to explain the unique and sometimes very strange job I had.

“Every Marine a rifleman” is a common expression around the Corps. Well, that’s every Marine except band members – I didn’t go to boot camp. Many people, myself included, would never have considered auditioning if spending 3 months at Parris Island were required, and I think the Marine Corps wisely decided that it wasn’t worth it.

Not everyone we encountered knew that Marine Band members were not combat trained, and it made for some surreal moments. One night, the orchestra was playing at an awards dinner for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (insert joke here).

In between handing out medals to his agents for things like shooting drug dealers and capturing arms smugglers, the bureau’s director gave a special thank you to the orchestra, because, as he put it, “You guys are the ones they send in first.” Strangely, no one corrected him, though I did suggest to my colleagues that if this came up again, the viola section should lead the way.

Many times since leaving the Band, I’ve had people thank me for my service, which can feel a little strange  – I certainly don’t consider myself to have been a real Marine, given that I wasn’t trained as one, and could never have been put in a combat situation (it’s in the contract).

Though my time in uniform was pretty different from most, I did get a closer look at life in the military than most civilians do. Maybe because of this unique position, I’ve often wanted to give something back to regular service members, and recently I got a chance to – I’ve been playing at the Cincinnati VA hospital.

The Cincinnati Arts Association, in a partnership with TriHealth and ArtsWave, has begun a pilot program to put live performers into medical settings, to show that music can enhance the healing process, as well as the general well-being of patients and staff.

I’m playing in the Treatment, Recovery and Activity Center, known as the TRAC (the VA, like the Pentagon, likes its acronyms). This part of the hospital offers group and individual therapy, as well as sessions designed to help vets re-adjust to civilian life and deal with post-traumatic stress.

It’s early, so there isn’t any data yet, but I’m sure the music’s having a positive effect – many of the vets I’ve met seem to really enjoy hearing Bach while they are at the clinic, and the staff does too. Here they are – from left, Brian Smith, Cincinnati Arts Association’s Director of Education and Community Relations Joyce Bonomini, Mark Hilt and Dr. Nalda Gordon.


The other day, I had a nice chat with a Navy vet in his sixties, who was in a wheelchair. He told me hearing the cello reminded him how much he missed his guitar playing, which he had to give up several years ago after an injury to his left hand. I reminded him about a great program called Guitars for Vets, which may be able to find him a left-handed guitar and some lessons, so he can get back to it. I hope he does – just talking about his playing made him come alive.

Anyone who has followed the news in recent years knows that the VA has had more than its share of troubles, and it feels good to bring great music into a setting which probably needs it more than most. In addition to furthering the program’s goals of promoting healing and well-being, I’m thanking the vets and the staff for their service, and, in a sense, continuing mine, which feels very good.

Till next time,






Art, Durable Good


Procter and Gamble, maker of brands like Gillette and Tide, is the biggest corporate presence in Cincinnati, where I live, and they are a huge supporter of the arts here. Recently, I performed and spoke at two P&G offices on behalf of Artswave, the Greater Cincinnati region’s local arts agency, which is beginning its big annual fundraising campaign.

Many people view what P&G does and what I do as completely different – they make things people need, and I give them something that’s nice to have, but not essential.

A perfect example of this kind of thinking was in this morning’s New York Times, in a column by Frank Bruni. In an otherwise superb defense of liberal arts education, he called his own “transformative” encounter with Shakespeare as an undergraduate student “a luxury,” and that he “can’t think of any bluntly practical application for it.” Say what?

You can read Bruni’s column and my online comment here – my point is that even someone who was profoundly impacted by the power of words, and wound up a writer himself, allows the “art isn’t necessary” crowd to frame his argument, and that’s a shame. Even if art doesn’t lead you to your profession, as it did for Bruni, it adds to the whole person you become, and should not be viewed as optional.

This brings me back to P&G. I am sure that many who were at my Artswave presentation were not “transformed” by it, but I also talked to some for whom it clearly had an impact, and I at least got most people listening and thinking differently for a little while. That’s enough for me – I’m content to play the long game, as P&G does.

Incidentally, I also made an ad pitch that morning – with his 20 kids, Bach would make an excellent Pampers spokesman. Haven’t heard back about that one yet.

Companies like P&G support the arts in no small part because we help people become more creative and engaged, which makes them more valuable employees. And yes, it’s also good PR – those of us in the classical music world could learn a thing or two from them!

We can take another lesson from P&G, too – if you want to be successful at something, you need to be relentless in pursuing your mission, and constantly re-evaluating yourself to make sure you’re reaching your goals.

Well, my mission is to make people feel great music is essential. I am not naive enough to think that Bach cello suites will ever have the ubiquity of Crest toothpaste, but I firmly believe that caring for your soul is as important as caring for your teeth.

Procter and Gamble has been around for 175 years. Bach’s music has been around for 300 years plus – strong evidence that his music is a very durable good indeed.

Till next time,