Diane Monroe: Bridging Diverse Musical Worlds

Victor L. Schermer By

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A Unique Approach to Teaching and Mentorship

AAJ: You're a sought after teacher and mentor. So when you instruct a fine musician, what do you try to infuse in him or her?

DM: I try to get to know their own playing totally. I want to instill in them that they need to breathe. You have to use your breath even with a non-wind instrument. Our emotions, our bodies, and spirit are all connected. I'll be doing a series of master classes in my home which is aimed at that idea. The focus is on having movement in music, sort of my own version of "Eurythmics," a way of teaching developed by Emile Jaques Dalcroze, combining music with movement. Some years ago I studied with an extraordinary musician, Inda Howland, who danced, painted the music, grunted and groaned to illustrate how music moves—ebbs and flows. Karen Tuttle, the incredible coach and viola teacher I studied violin with, passed on an extraordinary legacy, as to always allow yourself to breathe through the phrases you make, approach music from a reflexive place, and not from a static one. And I want to help bridge the gap between different types of music.

I have a student who is a fabulous violinist from the Eastman School of Music. Having graduated, he's now in a great string quartet in New York. And he also improvises very well, and is in various bands. So when he came to study with me, he played some Bach. It was really stiff and just wasn't free. So I asked him to show me his improvising, and then I saw him move. With the Bach, there was none of that movement. So he started to understand how he could get into his own mind with the Bach as when he would improvise. And then he realized that Bach himself improvised. So it became a different piece for him.

AAJ: That's wonderful! You facilitated a metamorphosis of his playing.

DM: Similarly, I got the technique from my violin teachers, but I got the feel of the music from the singers and other musicians who could improvise and go with the flow.

AAJ: And you learn to use your whole body rather than just the bowing and fingering.

DM: And not just playing the printed page. Lots of violinists only want to play fast, loud, and accurately. We are often encouraged to focus only or mostly on technique rather than expression. But that's not what it's all about. It's about, "What are you trying to say and communicate to the listener?"

Life and Spirituality

AAJ: What do you do when you're not doing music?

DM: Good question. I love to walk—I take a lot of walks. I also meditate and do some Yoga.

AAJ: Finally, and related to that, how do you understand your spirituality and the meaning of life?

DM: I believe that life is music. And that music is spirit. Music is vibration. Scientists have found that everything in our bodies and in the universe is in a constant state of vibrating. I think that's a foundation for understanding what music is really about. We are music. Music is life. I seek to make music from the inside out. At least that's the ideal. I also eat potato chips and go to the movies [laughter].

AAJ: That's like that Zen quotation: "Before enlightennment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."

DM: That's food for life to me. When you hear a great work of music, you're changed. It's transformative.

Selected Discography

Melody Gardot, Worrisome Heart (Verve, 2008)

Monaco Orchestra, Dances and Fables (Domilo, 2007)

Oregon String Quartet, And All That Jazz (Koch, 2006)

Adam Unsworth Ensemble, Excerpt This! (Unsworth, 2006)

String Trio of New York, Faze Phour—A Twenty Year Retrospective (Black Saint, 1999)

Chestnut Brass Company of Philadelphia, The Music of Francis Johnson (Musical Heritage, 1999)

Uptown String Quartet, Max Roach Presents The Uptown String Quartet (Philips, 1989)

Max Roach Double Quartet, Bright Moments (Soul Note, 1987)

Photo Credits

Pages 1, 3: Peter Checchia
Pages 2, 4: Robin Holland

All Other Photos: Courtesy of Diane Monroe
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