• 19Nov

    President Chalmiers announces McNally Smith College of Music’s partnership with the GRAMMY Foundation® —  which will bring Grammy Camp 2014 to McNally Smith’s campus in St. Paul, Minnesota — and speaks with high school guitarist and GRAMMY Camp® alum, Mikey LaSusa.


  • 10Sep

    Greetings to all new and returning McNally Smith students! A 2013-14 welcome address from McNally Smith College of Music President Harry Chalmiers:

  • 15Jul

    This spring, my daughter graduated from Pomona College in California. Along with all the other proud parents, I attended her commencement ceremony and was fortunate to hear a speech by Walter Isaacson, author of the critically acclaimed, bestselling Steve Jobs biography (as well as excellent books on Einstein, Ben Franklin, and Henry Kissinger).

    Isaacson made many thought-provoking points, but one in particular stood out to me. He noted that these ceremonies were going on all over the country, and he guaranteed that the exact same message was being delivered to the young graduates at the majority of them: Follow your passion!

    Music students fully understand the profound commitment necessary to choose a life in music—a choice that is often made despite parental concern due to the seeming lack of security in this career path. Following one’s passion is central to the life of a musician because it is this passion that provides the fuel we need to persevere and to succeed.

    Isaacson did not stop there, however. There was a broader piece of advice he wished to impart: Make a real contribution to your community and to the world around you. Following your passion is important, but doing only this merely makes your life all about you. Yes, you need to do what you love in order to be fulfilled, but there are other critical considerations to make when choosing a career path and setting priorities.

    Isaacson reminded the students that they should always be mindful of how they can add to the positive energy in the world—how they can help forge stronger communities and lend a hand to those in need, and live more than just a self-centered life. We are part of a greater whole, a global community that, unfortunately, is not in the best shape. It is our responsibility, individually and collectively, to make the world a better place—for ourselves, for our children, and for each other.

    Musicians can do this in so many ways—by contributing beauty to the world; by enriching people’s lives with creative expression; by helping to bring about change with lyrics of protest and insight; and by contributing to the creative economy that has rapidly become one of the major driving forces of commerce and livelihood.

    Do what you love, but remember that your goals should include you, your family, your friends, and your community. We are the world!

  • 07May

    A standard line in a lot of commencement speeches announces that students are now entering the “real world,” presumably as opposed to the “ivory tower” of higher education. At McNally Smith we have a very different philosophy — we endeavor to immerse students in every aspect of the “real world” of making a life in music from day one. When our students leave, they are not simply preparing to begin their careers because in most cases they’ve already started.

    We were thrilled and honored to have Yancey Strickler as our commencement speak this year. Yancey is one of the co-founders of Kickstarter, the enormously impactful funding mechanism that has allowed more than 38,000 creative folks to raise over half a billion dollars from their friends, fans, and believers in support of all manner of artistic and inventive projects.

    It’s nice to have a commencement speaker who has accomplished much in a long and distinguished lifetime, but in my opinion, it’s perhaps even more inspirational and relevant to hear from a dynamic young person who has changed the way money flows to creative projects. Having already changed the present, Yancey Strickler is proactively helping to create the future.

    I’ve included a video of the entire commencement ceremony which has my own charge to the class, two outstanding student speakers — Lauren McCauley and Adam Conrad — a stunning performance by our Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, and of course the commencement address by Yancey Strickler (if you want to jump right to Yancey’s speech it begins at about 48:40). Enjoy!

  • 25Apr

    McNally Smith songwriters — here is a special opportunity for you and I hope you will take full advantage of it. Each year, the college selects some of the best songs written by our students and releases them on a widely distributed and much-loved CD. Over 1,200 visitors read about the Best of 2012 participants on our website. Winners were interviewed on the Twin Cities CW, and watched by over 1,400 households last November. This is a fantastic way to get your music out into the world. Here are the guidelines:

    • Songs must consist of original material, less than 6 minutes in length
    • Limit 2 submissions per artist/band
    • Material must be recorded in the McNally Smith Recording Studios
    • All entries due by May 1st — NO EXCEPTIONS!

    Winners will be chosen by June 1st. The Best of 2013 CD will be released in October. Send your song(s) in MP3 format to judi.vinar@mcnallysmith.edu. Good luck, contestants!

  • 17Apr

    In the wake of a tragedy such as the bombing at the Boston Marathon, it is so hard to imagine what is in the hearts and minds of the people who create explosions to generate random chaos, horror, and death. Among precious few facts known at this time about the perpetrators of this terrible act, we do know this: They are destroyers, not creators.

    I understand that sometimes terrorism arises from cultures that are oppressed and victims of such violence themselves that their despair drives them to revenge, but it does not excuse the evil in their souls that allows them to produce such carnage.

    College is a place to think about big ideas — how you want to live your life, what are your most cherished values, what place do philosophy, religion, and art occupy in your life, and who are the people you are beginning to gather around you that will remain dear for the rest of your years?


    Along with learning about music, technology, business, and the liberal arts, we also should consider how we are going to make a contribution to our community and to society as a whole. We witnessed in the destructive act in Boston an immediate, instinctive response from so many people on the scene who ran towards the chaos to help rather than flee in terror. There are lessons in this catastrophe that one cannot learn in any classroom, but only in the presence of love for one’s fellow man, and a need to help others that is greater than the immense fear in that moment.

    As we educate ourselves in music, following our passion for art and creativity, remember to consider how we can all make the world a better place through our songs, our leadership in the world of music, art, and entertainment, and through meaningful contributions to our community.

    As he did so often, John Lennon used his powerful imagination to urge peace:

    You, you may say 
    I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
    I hope some day you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one

  • 07Mar

    McNally Smith President Harry Chalmiers concludes his enlightening conversation with Twin Cities-based artist Aby Wolf (A Wolf and Her ClawsWolf Lords) and collaborates with the exceptional vocalist on his new original song “You Shined A Light.”

  • 25Feb

    McNally Smith President Harry Chalmiers recently sat down with vocalist Aby Wolf to talk about her multi-faceted and fascinating musical life. From her recent sold-out CD release party for her newest venture, Wolf Lords (featuring McNally Smith alum Grant Cutler), to her work with Dessa and many other A-list artists in the Twin Cities, Aby shares her thoughts on being an artistic collaborator, a prolific songwriter, and how she’s making a life in music.

  • 30Jan

    In my last blog post I joined Edgar Allen Poe in extolling the virtues of foreseeing the end point of a story before one begins to write. It’s a good theory: imagine the desired effect, the tone, the elements you will create to achieve your denouement, then weave them together intelligently, inexorably to successful conclusion.

    It’s also true that this may never work for you. It’s even possible that it never worked for Poe himself, as some writers suggest his essay, The Philosophy of Compostition was “tongue in cheek,” written in response to critics of his poem, The Raven. Whether he was describing his actual writing technique, an ideal to reach for, or poking at his critics pretending to delineate a “scientific method” for his creativity doesn’t really matter.

    The truth is that there never has been and never will be one path to artistic accomplishment that works for everyone. Moreover, there’s not even one path that works for the same person time and time again. This is necessary to keep art forever fresh, unpredictable, exciting, and elusive.

    Sometimes when I’m frustrated with the lack of progress I’m making on a song, I find I wish that results could be more “guaranteed.” If I work hard enough, long enough, follow the process or method that produced my last song, why don’t I get the same desired result?

    Inspiration is nice when it comes, and sometimes it’s the spark for a great new song.  Sometimes it leads to a dead end. Worst of all, it’s totally unpredictable as to when and if it will ever come. Creative artists need something more dependable than that. Fortunately there is an approach that I can recommend.

    The approach is simple and requires really only two things: discipline and awareness. Discipline is needed to sit down when you may not feel like it; to keep going when you feel uninspired; to stick with it when some nameless force is urging you to go watch TV or play a video game. Awareness is necessary so you are prepared to grasp that moment when, from out of nowhere, you hear a chord, a turn of phrase, or a melodic fragment that catches your attention, and you suddenly have something to work with that sparks excitement. Then everything changes.

    Creative artists know the feeling when something exists that did not exist a moment ago. New possibilities may flow in abundance, or they may merely trickle along, but at least you have a piece of material, a musical molecule, that can be the basis of new life. But you’ve got to be working on it and paying close attention for this to happen.

    Inventors, scientists, and artists over millennia have known this truth: success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. And the largest part of the exertion required is mental. Write the end first if you like; set up chord sequences, or write the lyrics first — whatever keeps you working. But be alert, awake, and aware; make sure you recognize the moments of real spark that will become the seed of success. They may be elusive, but they are essential.

  • 10Jan

    No one wrote better short stories than Edgar Allan Poe. They are exciting, dramatic, and poetic. Reading a Poe story is like listening to music—the language is so rhythmic and colorful and it establishes a pulse that is as driving and compelling as the story itself. Poe is always building the drama and intensity relentlessly toward a climax of terror or tragedy that has rarely been matched in American literature.

    Poe wrote a very interesting essay called The Philosophy of Composition. Being a composer myself, and a believer in the fundamental commonality of all art forms, I was eager to see what he had to say about this subject. In this essay, Poe reveals many interesting things about how he constructed these amazing tales. First, he decided on the “effect” he wanted to create with a story.  Then he would determine how to best achieve it by combination of “incident” and “tone.”  And then most interesting of all, after figuring out the general outline of the tale, he would write the ending of the story first!

    Poe explains why when he states, “It is only with the denouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.”

    In other words, it is necessary to know what you are trying to achieve in order to create an effective, interesting, and successful path to accomplish it.

    The start of a new semester is a great time to set clear goals, make a plan, get organized, and prepare yourself to navigate through the huge number of demands on your time and energy. Setting goals that are realistic, achievable, and inspiring is a good place to begin.

    The same philosophy applies to a good practice session on your instrument. Don’t just sit and noodle around for an hour or two. It might be fun, but it definitely does not advance you as a player as much as having an appropriate set of goals for each session (e.g., carefully working on a difficult passage, doing technique building exercises, practicing sight reading), and dedicating a certain amount of focused practice time to accomplishing these aims.

    Similarly, look at your whole semester as a “practice session” writ large, and take a page from Poe’s essay: Write the ending first! Determine where you intend to be by the end of the semester, and carefully guide your activities, studies, and even free time toward that end.

    Wasting time? Nevermore….