By Michael Sheetz
Each month, we will be featuring a profile with one faculty member in order to find out a little bit more about what makes VCCCD so special. This month, I had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Scott Wolf, music instructor at Oxnard College.
I first got to know Scott last year when we collaborated together on a student project in the Film and Television program. The students in my Beginning Motion Picture class were shooting a short film as their term project, and I enlisted Scott’s help to work with some of his students to provide an original musical score for the project.
Scott mentored two very talented students through the process that stretched over the term and through that summer until finally, in August this year we had a wonderful, original score for the entire 34-minute film which we proudly premiere at the Oxnard PAB.
Watching Scott work with his students to help them bring their musical vision to life got me interested in getting to know a little bit more about what drives him. I had witnessed his dedication to teaching firsthand, now it was time to learn a little bit more about him as an artist.
Scott holds a Doctor of Music from USC where he studied under Grammy-award-winning classical guitarist Scott Tennant. Scott counts both Tennant and his first teacher, Dr. Randy Pile among those who had the greatest effect on him as a musician.
Recognizing his natural talent for the guitar, Dr. Pile took Scott under his wing and helped him transform his punk rock guitar style, and eventually find his voice as a musician. It was the confidence and nurturing that Dr. Pile offered Scott, which convinced him to audition his way into the Palomar Applied Music Program at Palomar College where he began his formal education that would eventually take him to the prestigious New England Conservatory and USC’s Thornton School of Music.
Scott credits his use of short, intense, focused practice sessions to the practice philosophy taught to him by Scott Tennant. As Scott explained, many musicians waste time in the practice room spending hours practicing for practice sake. Tennant rejected that, instead choosing to focus on short intense practice sessions with a plan for zeroing in on the core issues, then applying strategies to overcome them. This philosophy drastically changed the way Scott approached his own practice sessions, and allowed him to become much more efficient and effective. So much so, that Scott attributes his ability to perform four major recitals, each comprised of more than an hour of the most challenging music he had ever encountered, during his three years at USC. According to Scott, “I could never have performed [these recitals] at USC without his guidance.”
Scott Tennant has been quoted as saying that Scott Wolf, “bridge[s] two musical worlds. . . classical guitar and Flamenco.” I asked Scott if he had to choose, which genre would he pick? Not surprisingly, he lamented that he couldn’t pick just one. In fact, he counts versatility among his talents as a musician. He views the different styles of playing as symbiotic parts of a whole. Each musical form he learns, “informs the interpretation, and adds depth, to the others, I would never be satisfied being boxed in by one.”
Although he admits that classical and Flamenco have certainly received the lion’s share of his focus, he has studied a wide variety of musical styles including rock, jazz, avante-garde, minimalism, electronic music and much more. With such a wide musical taste, I wondered what drew him to Flamenco originally?
During his undergraduate days at UC San Diego, Scott and his mentor, Randy Pile would frequently hang out with Pepe Romero who is a world-renowned classical guitarist and an equally renowned Flamenco player. During one of these visits, Pepe suggested to Scott that he should study Flamenco in Spain since it would help his technique and inform his interpretations. Even though Scott had never really listened to Flamenco all that much, he took this master’s advice and moved to Grenada where he spent a year studying. It was there that he learned Flamenco, learned Spanish, and developed his life-long love affair with the Flamenco guitar, not to mention how he met his wife.
According to Scott, one of the unique things about Flamenco, is that it is a folk music and is primarily learned through the oral tradition. Because of that, Scott would travel through Spain and seek out a new instructor in each city. While he learned a great deal during his time abroad, Scott credits the guidance of a fellow student at the New England Conservatory, where he earned his Master’s, with helping him develop a better sense of his “compás.” Compás is the term for the wonderful Flamenco rhythm that give the style of music its unique feel. That student was Grisha Goryachev. In addition to beating Scott regularly at chess, this internationally recognized guitarist worked closely with Scott, teaching him traditional flamenco alongside their other studies.
Inevitably, our conversation turned to teaching. As an accomplished musician and performer, I was curious about what led him to teaching. Although Scott cannot point to any single aha moment, he recalls student teaching some of Dr. Piles classes, and then working one-on-one with students in private lessons. It was then that he immediately realizing that he loved to teach. When I pressed him, he admitted that one of the best things about teaching for him is the organic nature of it. There is “never an experience that happens the same way twice.” Sometimes those moments don’t work, and other times they really hit the mark. When they don’t work, you get rid of them, when they do; I try really hard to recreate them every time I can.
As for Oxnard College, Scott says he was immediately struck by the “warmth and general sense of community” that he experienced here. He added that he found his experiences traveling in Spain have really helped him to achieve a closer relationship with his students here. He feels that one of the great things about Oxnard is the fact that he gets a chance to work with the same students through different classes. “I love this,” he said, “it’s so wonderful to be in a small enough community that you have the chance to develop a real connection with the students.”
As our time wound down, I shifted gears. I remember seeing Scott sitting at the premiere screening of the student film project. He was sitting in the third row of the theater, balancing a baby carrier on his lap, while trying to watch the film. Parenthood changes us all. I was curious if Scott had any thoughts on how becoming a father for the first time has changed him as a teacher?
His son was born on the very same week he began teaching his first full-time class at Oxnard. However, it isn’t that his son’s birth has changed him as a teacher. It’s actually the other way around. Scott credits his patience with his son, to the years he has spent teaching. “I think if anything, perhaps being a teacher has helped me as a father. I think if I had had my son earlier, I wouldn’t have had the same level of patience or understanding. . . I think teaching has helped me develop that.”
By the end of my interview with Scott, I had confirmed what I guess I had known all along: Scott is a popular and dedicated teacher who graciously gives of himself to his student in hopes that they can realize their own potential. But, he is so much more than that. He is a highly accomplished performer with multiple albums. He’s travelled the world studying is craft, and last but not least, he is a dedicated and loving father. Just like all of us here in the district, he is a multifaceted wealth of knowledge, and one of the resources that make all three of our colleges second to none.
Join us next time, when we will turn the spotlight another of our many talented faculty members.