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The Mind Over Finger Podcast

Oct 18, 2019

047 James VanDemark: Technical Discipline & Interpretive Magic

This episode is full of inspiration and extremely useful information!  Eastman School of Music Bass Professor, James VanDemark, offers us tip after great tip to bring our practice and performance to the next level!

Among many topics, James talks to us about creating a technical discipline that leads to interpretive magic, and about on how crucial it is to have clear goals and setting the intention to build up our entire identity as an artist whenever we enter the practice room. 

He elaborates on the importance of:

  • using the bow in an imaginative way (having the bow be an extension of our imagination) while having a left hand that is as immaculate as can be
  • acutely playing in the present moment
  • establishing a great basic posture
  • slow practice
  • using the mirror
  • having interpretation be at the center of the technical work
  • create the concert experience in the practice room
  • ear training - through listening to recording actively and with imagination, and through exercises
  • having a schedule, have a clear intent, and be kind to others



Eastman School of Music:

YouTube Videos: Here




"Some people seemed destined to lead unconventional lives, and James VanDemark is certainly

one of them," said the New York Times in the first of its three profiles on VanDemark. Performer,

academic, boxer, producer, and entrepreneur - these are the principal roles VanDemark has

successfully played in a highly diverse career spanning nearly four decades.


VanDemark's arts and culture projects have been featured in the New York Times, Connoisseur

Magazine, on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, the BBC, CBC, NPR, and in many other media

outlets around the world. In considerable demand as a speaker on entrepreneurial skills at

colleges across the United States and Canada, VanDemark has also received great acclaim for

his frequent role as narrator with many prominent symphony orchestras, including more than 40

performances with the Rochester Philharmonic and 15 with the Texas Festival Orchestra.


Appointed to the Eastman School of Music at the age of 23, VanDemark was the youngest faculty

member ever appointed to a professorial position at a major American music school. His students

perform in many of the world’s great orchestras – the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland

Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra,

Philadelphia Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic, Buffalo Philharmonic, Vienna Chamber

Orchestra, Tokyo Chamber Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic – and

many more. His students have also been nominated for—and won—numerous Grammy awards

in various categories, including classical, contemporary, jazz, and bluegrass.


VanDemark’s students have also held positions at major music schools, including Indiana

University, Oberlin Conservatory, Eastman School of Music, Louisiana State University,

Carnegie-Mellon, Peabody Conservatory, University of Delaware, NYU’s Steinhardt School of

Music, Michigan State University, University of Colorado, University of Alabama, University of

Tennessee, and many others.


VanDemark’s performing career has included solo appearances with the New York Philharmonic,

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, National Symphony of Mexico, Netherlands

Radio Symphony, Symphony Nova Scotia, Minnesota Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de

Quebec, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and many more. Chamber music appearances have

included the Cleveland, Guarneri, Muir, Colorado and Ying Quartets, the Gryphon Trio, violinist

Yehudi Menuhin, as well as legendary pianists Andre Watts, Alfred Brendel, and Gary Graffman.

VanDemark has also been featured on Lincoln Center’s “Great Performers Series” on three

occasions, including in recital with Andre Watts.


VanDemark is also the recipient of commissioned works by many composers, including three

Pulitzer Prize winners: Gian-Carlo Menotti, Joseph Schwantner, and Christopher Rouse.

As a founding member of Square Peg Entertainment, VanDemark developed and represented

screenplays and properties of Oscar winners Ernest Thompson, Horton Foote, Eiko Ishioka, Ron

Harwood, Oscar nominee Hesper Anderson, Stu Silver, Paul Theroux, and many others.

VanDemark also developed the World War I story CODE BROTHERS for CTV (Toronto), THE

WAYNE AND SUE SHOW for Tribune Entertainment, produced the album and music video THE

GIFT with singer Linda Eder for Atlantic Records, and with television legend Sir David Frost,

developed the Frederick Forsyth novella THE SHEPHERD in conjunction with Shaftesbury Films

(Toronto). VanDemark also co-produced and cast SPEAK LOW, the highly successful Brooklyn

Academy of Music (BAM) Gala featuring Jerry Orbach, Donna Murphy, Duncan Sheik, and other

stars of Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera in the music of Kurt Weill. VanDemark has also

served as Music Supervisor for John Cougar Mellencamp's film, AFTER IMAGE.


Acclaimed for his extensive work in the Native American community, VanDemark commissioned

and developed the Native collaborative musical work CIRCLE OF FAITH, profiled in The New

York Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Detroit Free Press, Minneapolis Star and Tribune, Denver

Post, Lakota Times, and on NPR's Morning Edition. VanDemark has helped produce more than

40 performances of the work in the United States and Canada.


As an accomplished amateur boxer, VanDemark was recently profiled on the front page of The

Wall Street Journal, The Strad, on CBC's "Q," WNYC's "Soundcheck," and was featured at length

on ESPN's E-60. VanDemark’s conditioning and boxing program for students, musicians, and the

general public has also brought him considerable worldwide acclaim. His recent boxing/

conditioning presentations include the University of Tennessee, the University of Alabama,

Louisiana State University, Loyola University New Orleans, and the University of Santiago (Chile).


VanDemark attributes the longevity and diversity of his career not only to his own athletic training,

but also to his work in the the health care field in the 1970’s, when he worked extensively under

the renowned neurologist Dr. Howard S. Barrows at the McMaster University School of Medicine

in Canada in developing the groundbreaking Simulated/Standardized Patient Program (SPP). As

a result of these achievements, VanDemark was named to the Industry Board of the American

Health Council in October 2017.



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Most sincere thank you to composer Jim Stephenson who graciously provided the show’s musical theme!  Concerto #1 for Trumpet and Chamber Orchestra – Movement 2: Allegro con Brio, performed by Jeffrey Work, trumpet, and the Lake Forest Symphony, conducted by Jim Stephenson.

Also a HUGE thank you to my fantastic producer, Bella Kelly!