Ajibola Rivers – Cello Teacher

Cello, Double Bass, Electric Bass
Temple University

IRIS Orchestra Artist Fellowship Program
Classical and Jazz

cello, double bass, electric bass, lesson, philly, music, philadelphia, fishtownI teach cello. I completed my music performance degree at Boyer College of Music and Dance in the spring of 2016. Shortly thereafter I was accepted for the pilot year of the IRIS Orchestra Artist Fellowship Program in Memphis, TN where I did extensive work in the underserved communities of the Shelby County School District. Every week I gave individual lessons, group sessions, lectures, master classes, workshops, and many performances. In addition to playing and teaching cello I am also a songwriter and a composer; I very often supplement my teaching by writing pieces custom-tailored to my students’ needs and ability level. I returned from Memphis in June of this year, so I have a lot of setup work and exploring to do! In these next few years I will be working with various groups in classical, jazz, funk, blues, folk, Latin, and exploratory music. I am also developing a series of teaching techniques and philosophies that I am eager to share with students and audiences alike. Whether performing or teaching, I love to make music an experience for my students and audience.

 

When did you begin playing Cello, and why?
I began playing cello in third grade, when I was nine years old. An exploratory music program was offered at my elementary school, and between the three string instruments that were offered I chose to learn cello. Apparently there was no major motivation to play the cello other than curiosity; I wanted to try it and I was willing to learn it, and I have been making music ever since.

What other instruments do you play, and what is your experience with them?
I used to play trombone, and now I play bass guitar and I write music. I played trombone from fourth grade up until my junior year of high school; it is through trombone that I learned to swing and play jazz. I taught myself upright bass and bass guitar while I was in college. Composing I have also largely taught myself. I took one year of composition lessons at the Boyer College of Music and Dance, but everything before and after that time I derived from music theory classes and I have been finding ways to challenge myself on a regular basis.

What are your personal goals as a musician?
I want to serve as a conduit between global communities and the performing arts. I want to develop a performance ideology rooted in community engagement to be used as a go-to method for audience development. Most importantly, I want to do things with my abilities that others have never done before. My mantra is, “as a creative artist, I have a social responsibility to explore, invent, and discover new ways to celebrate the human condition,” and I hope to fulfill that mission throughout my life.

Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked?  Something you’ll remember forever?
Learning to change my sound throughout a note opened up a whole new world for my playing. My junior year of high school I was auditioning for a music festival. I wanted to have a really good audition, and when playing in tune was no longer enough I started experimenting. It was at this time that music theory concepts like voice leading, transitions, and contrast really started to make sense. Over three weeks I finally learned the technique behind and the importance of controlling and altering vibrato, bow speed, bow pressure, and countless other factors in changing my sound and bringing my music to life.

What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?
My most recent cello teacher once said, “It’s not always the best player who wins the audition; when in doubt, be the smartest.” I now approach everything in life with this line of thinking. Sometimes when I try to be the best I am not always smart with my effort, but if I think carefully about what to do and how to do it, very often what I then choose to do ends up being my best work.

What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?
My most challenging learning moment happens every day. I have an injury that requires me to modify the way I use my bow. Being unable to use a traditional bow grip is hard: I always have to take instruction with a grain of salt, and sometimes it hurts to play no matter how good my technique is. Playing cello can sometimes be a very lonely experience for me, but I have learned to see the positive in that. In doing things my own way I end up doing a lot of thinking and experimenting, which has helped me develop a habit of thoughtfulness and openness toward myself and others in all aspects of life.

What is your biggest musical achievement?
I have two biggest achievements. My biggest playing achievement took place at the Orfeo Music Festival, where I won both the concerto competition and the student soloist competition on the same day. My biggest writing achievement is my piece, “The Meadow,” which happens to be the last piece I wrote before officially deciding to become a professional composer.

Favorite thing about teaching?
I love seeing my students grow, and I love the challenge and the journey of unearthing that potential; however it manifests. There is no way to know which students I teach will become professional musicians and which will become something else; I can only give my best and most honest perspective, and hope that wherever my students go they are better off for having studied with me.

What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?
Music is a very personal experience. In order to connect with your music, you must be willing to connect with yourself. Music is also selfless; as an art form it lives by being shared, so we must also share our skills, our ideas, and our passion with others.

Personal music projects: i.e. bands, groups, shows, recording, etc.
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