by Ron Oshima
Lyle Rivera, MYSO Jazz Studies guitarist and 2019 graduate, spent his first Thanksgiving away from home dining in at Joe’s Pizza on 14th St. and 3rd Ave., a few blocks from New York University (NYU) where he is a freshman. This is the quintessential image of a young musician striking out on his own in New York City. Lyle is pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies at NYU, which lies in the heart of Greenwich Village, home to many jazz clubs.
What led you to MYSO?
I spent the last two years of high school in MYSO after my guitar teacher, Neil Davis, recommended it to me. [Neil is on the MYSO jazz faculty]. I picked up a guitar in the eighth grade and was essentially self-taught until I engaged Neil as a teacher my sophomore year. I knew Neil because he taught a guitar ensemble at my high school, Pius XI Catholic High School.
How did you end up at New York University?
I applied to several top schools in addition to NYU, including Eastman and the San Francisco Conservatory. NYU accepted me and gave me a generous financial aid package. When I was a high school junior, I visited NYU because a lot of jazz artists I admire live and perform in NYC. On that first visit, I took a private lesson with Professor Brad Shepik, who is currently my private instructor in guitar.
Part of the application process at NYU is an audition which consists of a jam session. They combine a group of applicants with different instruments, make a band on the spot, and have you play a song. Fortunately, MYSO provided me the experience of being with different musicians constantly, and the MYSO jam sessions at the Jazz Gallery were very helpful. At those jam sessions, I was playing with top-level musicians like professional bassist, Jeff Hamann, who was very nice and supportive. In fact, I found the entire Milwaukee professional jazz community to be very helpful in my development.
How does one learn improvisation?
Just like learning a language, improvisation is best learned by listening to others improvise music, perform written music, and talk about music. MYSO provides a safe space for young musicians to improvise as well as perform written music. Improvisation, like any skill, requires a curious and confident mindset. Musical improvisation is a primary way that I can relate myself to others and the world around me. It allows me to communicate in a way that talking never could, and that’s why I love it.
Describe your experience at NYU.
I recently took part in a performance in December with the New Music Ensemble from NYU. We performed ten pieces, each composed by a different composer from the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, Italy. One of those pieces was accompanied by dancing choreographed by the legendary dancer, Douglas Dunn, long-time faculty member at NYU. It was a privilege to do this show.