Musikal Journeys: The Story of Jonathan Ovalle
I first met Jonathan Ovalle many years ago while he and I were students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI. Jonathan was a sophomore at that time, and I, as a lowly freshman percussion major, was immediately blown away not only by his outstanding playing abilities but also by his unusually broad interest and understanding of pedagogy. Jonathan is now an Assistant Professor of Percussion at the University of Michigan. On top of his outstanding abilities and accomplishments both as a player and as a teacher, he possesses a personable, uncanny wit and sense of humor and is someone who cares deeply and selflessly about the development of his students.
Jonathan first became an integral part of the MH team in late 2017 and helped us to edit and refine our first book, Rhythm Keeper vol. 1. Then, in the summer of 2018, Jonathan came to visit us at the MH headquarters in Graz, Austria, where we worked on co-writing the second (still to be released) volume of Rhythm Keeper. We are very happy to have Jonathan onboard and eagerly look forward to collaborating with him on future MH projects.
Q&A With Jonathan
Where were you born? MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
Where do you live? ANN ARBOR, MI
Job & Instrument? ASSISTANT PROFESSOR - UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN -PERCUSSION (also piano - not by trade, though)
Beginnings, Teaching & Work-Life Balance
Every journey has a beginning. When did your musical journey with percussion begin? 6TH GRADE - MIDDLE SCHOOL
Did your journey have any unexpected turns or interruptions? NOT THAT I CAN THINK OF
Who are your major artistic inspirations? EARLY ON, WAS SOME GREAT DRUMSET PLAYERS - DAVE WECKL, MANU KATCHE, VINNIE COLIAUTA, NOW I AM INSPIRED BY GREAT MUSICIANSHIP ON ANY INSTRUMENT, ARTISTS LIKE BELA FLECK, HILARY HAHN, GUTHERIE GOVAN, JOE SATRIANI, RENE FLEMING, HIROMI, HOWARD LEVY, ETC.
Life as both a professor, performer and parent is demanding. How do you foster balance in your life? I THINK THE IDEA OF "BALANCE” IS A LITLE TRICKY BECAUSE IT IMPLIES BOTH ARE OPERATING IN EQUAL AMOUNTS SIMULTANEOUSLY. I THINK MY LIFE TENDS TO SWING TOWARDS WORK SOMETIMES, AND SWING MORE TOWARDS BEING A PARENT OTHER TIMES. I AM CERTAINLY DOING BOTH JOBS AT THE SAME TIME, BUT NOT ALWAYS IN EQUAL AMOUNTS EVERY WEEK. I THINK BEING A PARENT ACTUALLY HELPED ME AS A MUSICIAN BECAUSE I WAS FORCED TO BE MUCH MORE EFFICIENT WITH MY TIME, I WAS FORCED TO REALLY THINK CRITICALLY ABOUT HOW I WANT TO SPEND MY TIME AND WHAT GIGS/PROJECTS I CHOOSE TO TAKE, ETC. SO, I THINK IT HAS ACTUALLY HELPED ME FOCUS QUITE A BIT IN A WAY THAT I MAYBE WAS NOT SO WHEN I WAS YOUNGER, BEFORE I WAS A PARENT AND SPENT (WASTED) A LOT OF MY TIME "DOING EVERYTHING."
Advice for Young Musicians
What encouragement can you offer young musicians? ENJOY THE WORK, EVEN WHEN IT IS "DIRTY WORK." NOT EVERYTHING IS AMAZING AND FUN ALL THE TIME, BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN'T ENJOY ENGAGING IN IT AND MAKE IT POSITIVE. FOCUS HARD ON YOUR FUNDAMENTALS AT THE BEGINNING, THEY WILL ALLOW MUCH MORE MUSIC TO OPEN UP TO YOU LATER. INVEST AS MUCH IN THE "CRAFT" AS THE "ART." COMMIT TO THE DISCIPLINE OF PLAYING YOUR INSTRUMENT EVERY SINGLE DAY, EVEN IF ONLY FOR A FEW MINUTES. SKILLS ARE BUILT UP OVER TIME THROUGH CONSISTENCY, DISCIPLINE AND PATIENCE. LISTEN TO A LOT OF MUSIC OF ALL STYLES. ANYTHING YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON. PLAY A LOT OF DIFFERENT MUSIC (SOLO AND CHAMBER.) EACH ENVIRONMENT PROVIDES A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY. LOVE WHAT YOU DO EVERY DAY. MAKE MUSIC A PART OF THE FABRIC OF YOUR LIFE.
Tell us about your practice routine. MY ROUTINE VARIES DEPENDING ON IF I AM IN GENERAL MAINTENANCE MODE OR IF I AM PREPPING FOR A GIG/RECITAL. I WOULD SAY I VALUE THE CONSISTENCY OF THE DAILY ROUTINE AND TRY AND WORK A FEW THINGS CONSISTENTLY EVERYDAY. I HAVE A ROUTINE WHICH I DO TO KEEP MY HANDS IN GOOD PHYSICAL CONDITION. FOR MY STUDENTS I RECOMMEND WORKING ON TIME/RHYTHM/PULSE CONTROL, TECHNIQUE/MECHANICS, AS WELL AS SIGHT-READING EVERYDAY. THE OTHER PARTS MAY BE VARIABLE. SO IF I HAVE A RECITAL APPROACHING, I MAY BE WORKING ON A LOT MORE REPERTOIRE THAN I MIGHT BE IN OTHER WEEKS. SO, NOT EVERY WEEK IS EXACTLY THE SAME IN TOTAL, BUT THERE ARE ELEMENTS OF MY PRACTICING I WORK TO RE-CREATE IN A VERY CONSISTENT MANNER.
Three things you couldn't live without. MUSIC, FRIENDS/FAMILY, OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
Other Artistic Pursuits
We know you also play the piano and write your own music. Can you share a little bit about that? I STARTED PLAYING PIANO AT AGE 5 AND TOOK LESSONS ONLY FOR A FEW YEARS. ONCE I STARTED PLAYING PERCUSSION IN MIDDLE SCHOOL IT WAS DIFFICULT TO KEEP UP WITH BOTH SO I FOCUSED ON PERCUSSION/BAND BUT CONTINUED TO PLAY ON MY OWN AND STILL DO. I DISCOVERED JAZZ/POP MUSIC AT SOME POINT AND LEARNED ABOUT THOSE ENVIRONMENTS ON PIANO AS I CONTINUED TO EXPLORE ON MY OWN. THE PIANO BECAME A PLACE OF PEACE/CALM FOR ME AND REMAINS SO TO THIS DAY. ABOUT 12 YEARS AGO, I WAS EXPERIENCING SOME DIFFICULTY IN MY LIFE AND FOUND MY SELF WRITING A LOT OF SONGS. I FELT LIKE I NEEDED TO GET THIS MUSIC OUT THERE IN A PUBLIC WAY SO I DID A CONCERT. I HAD NEVER PLAYED PIANO AND SUNG ORIGINAL MUSIC IN PUBLIC LIKE THAT BEFORE AND IT WAS A REALLY POWERFUL EXPERIENCE FOR ME. SO, I HAVE CONTINUED TO WRITE AND PERFORM AS A SINGER/SONGWRITER AND OF ALL THE THINGS I DO, IT FEELS THE MOST HONEST TO ME. IT IS MY WORDS, MY STORY, MY VOICE. NOWHERE TO HIDE. THERE IS SOMETHING VERY HONEST, POWERFUL, AND VULNERABLE ABOUT THAT FOR ME THAT I ENJOY AND IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN THE OTHER GIGS/CONCERTS THAT I USUALLY PLAY. I FEEL LIKE EVERYTHING INFORMS EVERYTHING ELSE, SO MY "PROFESSIONAL" WORK CERTAINLY INFLUENCES THAT ENVIRONMENT AND VICE-VERSA. I GUESS MUSICALLY, I ENJOY SWIMMING IN LOTS OF DIFFERENT PONDS, SO THIS IS JUST ONE OF THEM.
What would you be if you weren't a musician? HMMM. GRAPHIC OR INTERIOR DESIGNER.
How do you prepare before going on stage? I TRY TO MAKE SURE THE PREPARATION IS METICULOUS, SO THERE IS NOTHING TO WORRY OR THINK ABOUT. I WANT TO HIT THE "GO BUTTON" AND JUST ENJOY THE RIDE. I HAVE INVESTED THE TIME PRIOR TO KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN, NOT HOPE SOMETHING WILL OR WON’T HAPPEN. I LIKE TO BE RESTED AND HAVE EATEN SOMETHING LIGHT. I DON'T ENJOY EATING A BIG MEAL BEFORE I PLAY. SOMETIMES A BANANA, OR EVEN SOME CANDY LIKE SKITTLES TO JUST GET A LITTLE SUGAR IN ME ALONG WITH WATER OR A SPORTS DRINK USUALLY SUFFICES. I LIKE TO DO A STRETCH TAUGHT TO ME BY THE KODO DRUMMERS OF JAPAN THAT HELPS GET MY UPPER BODY AND ARMS TOTALLY RELAXED AS WELL AS OPENS UP THE BACK A LITTLE BIT. I ALWAYS DO THIS BEFORE I PLAY.
On Pedagogy & Teaching
How do you view your role in a student's life? I THINK MY JOB AS A TEACHER IS TO GUIDE THEM IN THEIR MUSICAL JOURNEY BY GIVING THEM TECHNICAL TOOLS TO BE ABLE TO THEN SAY WHAT THEY WANT TO SAY MUSICALLY WITH NO LIMITATIONS. ALSO, TO FIND WHAT THEY ARE MOTIVATED BY MUSICALLY OR IN THEIR FUTURE CAREERS AND HELP GUIDE THEM AND STEER THEM TOWARDS HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN THAT AREA, SPECIFICALLY. I ALSO RECOGNIZE THERE IS A LARGER MENTORING ROLE SERVED BY BEING A TEACHER THAT CAN OFTEN CROSS INTO PARTS OF STUDENTS' NON-MUSICAL LIVES. I FULLY EMBRACE THIS ROLE AND THESE CONVERSATIONS AS I THINK ONE'S MUSIC-MAKING CAN NOT BE SEPARATED FROM ONE'S "LIFE" SO CLEARLY. WE ARE WHO WE ARE. WE FEEL HOW WE FEEL, AND THAT ULTIMATELY INFLUENCES OUR MUSIC-MAKING. I RECOGNIZE THAT NOT EVERY STUDENT WILL HAVE A LONG LASTING CAREER IN MUSIC AS THEY NAVIGATE THROUGH LIFE, BUT IT IS MY GOAL TO HAVE GIVEN THEM CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS, LISTENING SKILLS, DISCIPLINE, AS WELL AS THE ABILITY TO ENGAGE AND APPRECIATE THE ARTS. WHETHER THEY ARE CONTRIBUTING FROM THE STAGE OR AS AN AUDIENCE MEMBER.
Can you briefly describe your philosophy on pedagogy? I THINK IT IS TWOFOLD. I THINK YOU HAVE TO HAVE A CONCRETE METHOD/IDEAS YOU FULLY BELIEVE IN/SUBSCRIBE TO THAT YOU WORK TO SHEPHERD STUDENTS THROUGH, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, I BELIEVE YOU NEED TO BE FLEXIBLE AND ABLE TO ACCOMMODATE EACH STUDENT INDEPENDENTLY BY HAVING A VARIETY OF WAYS/OPTIONS TO ARRIVE AT AN END GOAL. THAT DOESN'T MEAN YOU STRAY FROM YOUR BELIEFS AS A TEACHER, BUT RATHER HAVING OPTIONS OF DIFFERENT PATHWAYS LEADING TO THE SAME END GOAL. I THINK EVERY TEACHER SHOULD HAVE A PERIOD OF TIME IN THEIR CAREER WHERE THEY HAVE SOME STUDENTS THEY CAN "EXPERIMENT" WITH AND TRY DIFFERENT IDEAS/METHODS/PHILOSOPHIES TO SEE WHAT WORKS. THIS IS PART OF THE PATH TO DEVELOPING A CONCRETE METHOD. HAVING AN OPPORTUNITY TO ARRIVE AT THAT PLACE THROUGH TRIAL AND ERROR.
Favorite Food: I LIKE ETHNIC FOODS, THAI, CHINESE, MEXICAN, JAPANESE, ETC.
Favorite Color: PROBABLY A TIE BETWEEN BLUE AND BLACK
Favorite Clothing Brand for Teaching: I SHOP AT BANANA REPUBLIC A LOT. HAHA...
Favorite Places to Travel: EUROPE/ASIA