Amid the booming nightlife of Washington, D.C., one adventurous 16-year-old snuck into a club to see his musical hero Dave Holland, the bassist for Miles Davis.
The young teen admired Holland for his musical prowess and played the same instruments as him: the cello and bass guitar, among others.
At the time, the boy was wondering whether to continue playing rock and roll, or veer off path and pursue a career in classical music. Seeking a solution to his dilemma, he worked up the courage and approached Holland for some expert advice.
“I started talking to him about my situation. I said, ‘I am kind of at a crossroads (with my music).’ And he said, ‘You should do what’s most challenging to you,’” said Alan Weinstein, a music professor at Virginia Tech.
Weinstein went on to take Holland’s advice and pursue a career in classical music, which eventually brought him to his current position at Tech.
Weinstein grew up in D.C. in the 1970s. At the time, the city was a “hot bed” for jazz and rock and roll, he said.
Weinstein was heavily influenced by the bustling musical environment, which extended into his home life, with many of his family members seriously pursuing music.
“It just assumed I would pick an instrument. I just kind of gravitated toward those people in public schools who were musicians; it became my scene,” Weinstein said.
While his musical background laid the foundation for his passion for the cello, his growing interest stemmed for a childish decision he finds amusing.
“(My older sisters) both played instruments where you had to stand up — the flute and the violin. As a younger person, when it came time to choose an instrument, I really chose the cello because you got to sit down,” Weinstein said.
It is no surprise based on the rich musical environment in which he grew up that Weinstein decided to pursue a career in music.
Weinstein attended the New England Conservatory in Boston, Mass. and went on to further his musical prowess at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
In addition to studying music in the northeast, Weinstein also lived abroad in Berlin, Germany, furthering his studies and playing professionally.
Weinstein has played professionally in the United States for many years. While most of his experiences have been with the cello, one of his most memorable moments came while playing the harmonica.
“As a harmonica player, I played with Ray Charles. He was a soloist with the Roanoke Symphony, and the piece was for Ray and five soloists. The famous harmonica player couldn’t make the gig, and they asked me to take his place,” Weinstein said.
Not only was Weinstein able to perform alongside Charles, but he also got to perform his solo before Charles.
“The best part was there was one part where we traded solos, and Ray went after me, and he took one of my licks and developed it. That was a great moment in my life to have Ray Charles repeat what you just did,” Weinstein said.
While Weinstein set out to become a performer, he feels he has an obligation to teach and pass his knowledge on to the next aspiring musician.
“You spend so much time working at your craft, you are obligated to tell someone else how to do it. It almost validates what you do,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein believes, especially in classical music, there is almost an unwritten code in which musicians will go on to teach, thus continuing a circle of growing musicians.
“It is an oral tradition, so you can’t learn it out of a textbook. You really have to be in the room with someone showing you how to make the music work,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein has been a music professor at Tech since 2003. Weinstein is well known for teaching creativity and aesthetic experience, a class that draws about 1,200 students per semester.
Eric Nelson, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, enrolled in the course this
semester to fulfill a curriculum for liberal education requirement.
“From what I heard, it was an easy class where you could just go for the tests and do a good job,” Nelson said.