A native of Iowa, Philip Alejo is the new Assistant Professor of Bass at the University of Arizona. He has had an impressive list of teachers including Peter Dominguez and Diana Gannett. He is bringing a lot of diverse experiences to Arizona. Not only is he a great teacher, but he is also an active performer in orchestras, chamber groups, and now… Mariachi. Here is your chance to meet Philip and read a little of his story.
What are you looking forward to most this year?
Now that I’ve started my new position at the University of Arizona, I’m most thrilled by the opportunity to build and nurture a bass studio that will make a positive impact in the Southwest region and beyond. I’d like my students to enter into an encouraging, yet rigorous studio environment. It is my goal to create a space that will allow each student to develop as unique musicians and young people.
I also look forward to meeting new colleagues and making musical connections in my new community. Finding a home base at a music school within a research university creates special possibilities to collaborate in areas far beyond my own discipline, and for that, I am endlessly excited. I have already fulfilled a long-standing dream and joined a Mariachi playing guitarron!
What piece of advice or encouragement have you received from your former teachers/mentors that you treasure as you move into your new position?
I have felt tremendously encouraged over the past several years observing the successes and achievements of my friends and colleagues in all fields. Their fellowship wins, orchestral and teaching appointments, professional advances, and medical residencies, have inspired me and focused my own work.
Two bits of advice especially influenced me as I sought professional positions. First off, my undergraduate teacher Peter Dominguez, frequently reminded me of the mantra passed down from his teacher, Richard Davis: “Take care of the bass, and it will take care of you.” I took this message to heart and dedicated myself to becoming the best bass player and musician I could be. I realized over time that once when the work is done, the other pieces gradually begin to fall into place.
Finally, Diana Gannett, my high school and graduate teacher, shared the stories of her first interviews. She reminded me that interviews and auditions should be fun. GASP! As crazy as this first seemed to me, these opportunities are, after all, our chances as musicians and teachers to share what we love to do!
What passions / activities do you have outside your performance and teaching life?
I love to stay active outside of my performing and teaching life. I include a mix of swimming, yoga, running, strength training, and tennis to keep healthy and strong enough to play the bass. Our instrument demands training—no joke! I also can’t wait to explore new hiking trails in the deserts and mountains of the Southwest. The landscape out here is outrageous. Traveling and taking “short” breaks away from music reinvigorates my practice and sustains my musical growth. I also value spending time with family and friends. Life (and music) is best when shared with others.
With all the adjustments to a new home, school and more, what helps you to stay calm and balanced in this process?
Developing routine has helped me to effectively and consistently perform and teach at my best level. When I enter a practice room, a lesson, or rehearsal, I make every effort to prevent other facets of my life from creeping in to distract my attention. This focus to task allows me to make much better use of limited time. Two activities in particular help me to stay calm: swimming and reading. I easily lose myself in the clarity of the pool or in the midst of a new novel. Regular sleep habits and a good nap every now and then are never out of fashion!
What are your go-to teaching tools in the studio?
My go-to tools in the music studio are those that allow my students to become their own best teachers. Knowing how they practiced is far more important to me than if they practiced. Any bass player, myself included, will be better off heading to the practice room with the following tools:
- Mirror—to objectively observe position and posture while maintaining healthy alignment.
- Recording device—to create an archive of important lesson, practice, and performance moments for self-evaluation and reference.
- Metronome—to develop solid and unflappable rhythm. Always start SLOW!
- Voice—Singing is beyond valuable when developing fine intonation and musical phrasing. Our singing voices need not be beautiful, but they must be beautifully connected to our instruments!
Interview by Kristin Korb