Five Question Friday: Isabelle M. Thomas
Isabelle M. Thomas is a student at William Paterson University Honors College, majoring in Music Education with a focus in classical percussion and a minor in piano. Isabelle is a sister of Sigma Alpha Iota Women’s International Music Fraternity (the Theta Kappa Chapter), Secretary of the WPU NAfME chapter, and a Music Theory and Ear Training tutor for the music department. She was a member of the front ensemble of the Hawthorne Caballeros Drum and Bugle Corps in 2017 and 2018. Isabelle has taught at Bach to Rock in Wayne, New Jersey, teaching piano, voice, and ukulele. She also teaches through her own private lesson service and has done small projects here and there. Isabelle is a member of the PAS University Committee.
R!S: How do you find new pieces that you are interested in playing? What factors do you consider when seeking out and/or choosing new solo or chamber repertoire?
Isabelle M. Thomas: I usually find new pieces by watching percussion ensembles and solo videos or live performances. I also get a lot of my repertoire from my peers and professors. The factors I consider when choosing a piece are instrumentation, difficulty level, style, and if I like the way it sounds. I believe that you should play the music you enjoy listening to. Sometimes you will have to play a piece you don’t love, but if you have a choice, definitely choose something that you will want to practice.
R!S: What changes about the way you play a piece as you “live” with it for a while? Do you typically perform a piece once or multiple times?
IMT: Starting a new piece is as exciting as it is terrifying. Fully learning, understanding, and expressing a piece takes a lot of time. After a while of living with a piece, I find that it doesn’t necessarily become easier, but it becomes more familiar. You start to hear things you never did before, and the feeling of the piece changes tremendously. I will usually perform a piece, whether it is solo repertoire or chamber music, two or three times a semester.
R!S: How involved and in what ways is your instructor involved in your repertoire selection?
IMT: My instructor will usually give me suggestions, ideas, and composers or styles to check out. Sometimes I will bring something into a lesson and we will go from there, or sometimes I am assigned a piece. It’s different every time, but it is always really collaborative.
R!S: Do you finish every piece that you start to learn? If not, why not? If a piece seems like a poor fit or you struggle unusually with a piece, how do you proceed? Do you “bail” on the selectio,n or what changes do you make to allow yourself to complete it?
IMT: Sometimes a piece just does not feel right. This can be very difficult and defeating. No one wants to “quit” or drop a piece, but if it is not a great fit, it is totally okay to find one that is. If I am struggling with a piece, I like to listen to it or watch a video recording of it. I pay attention to the hands of the performer to see how the mechanics of the piece work, and I listen to get an idea of the melody and general direction. I also will reach out to my colleagues and professors for advice. I try not to drop pieces that may feel too difficult, instead, I make a “practice map.” In this, I plan out how much time I want to spend on a specific passage, what I want to work on, the tempo I will use, and any other specific things that will help me to improve. Always working in small chunks goes a long way.
R!S: What is one particularly favorite piece of repertoire you’ve performed and why?
IMT: One of my favorite pieces from my repertoire would have to be “Land” by Takatsugu Muramatsu. I learned this piece in 2018 for my college auditions and have recently revisited it for an upcoming performance. This piece has a beautiful melodic line that comes right out of the texture of the accompaniment so seamlessly. It uses the entirety of the marimba making it tricky but so fun to play. The sound, the vibe, the feeling — all of it just makes this piece a really special one. I learned this piece when I was still new to Stevens grip, so it brings back all those memories, too.