Thursday, July 4, 2019

Summer Update

Just a quick update today.

I've been doing a nice job keeping up with practice and with rotating my DeLorenzo exercises. I started incorporating more of them into my practice rotations as well. There were many that I've putting off certain exercises until I was "ready" for them, which is slightly misguided. No, I'm not ready to plow through tons of exercises at a fast tempo, but I can definitely do a few a day at a slower, reasonable tempo. This variety from day to day keeps my practice interesting, and it stretches my abilities just enough. After enjoying my coffee and a crossword on the balcony, it'll be time to start today's practice!

Happy Fourth of July!

Monday, June 24, 2019

My Journey with Anxiety

Since it's summer I decided to try and get back into practicing regularly with the hopes of being able to put together a recital in early fall (we'll see if that works out or not). It's not uncommon for me to ebb and flow and try to get into a new practice routine only to have it fall apart pretty easily. I then end up in some sort of shame spiral because I've yet again failed to prove myself a "real musician."

Earlier this week I had a realization while practicing that it has been seven years - SEVEN. YEARS. - since I was practicing and playing regularly and at a fairly respectable level.  No wonder why it's been so hard to get back into the swing of things! I was under a lot of stress during the end of my time in grad school (around 2011-2012) and that was the beginning of some significant anxiety for me. I left West Virginia after finishing grad school in 2012 and moved to south Florida, where I've had some significant dry spells.

During my last year in graduate school, I had a pretty humiliating experience with a playing a chamber recital for a pianist friend. The repertoire was the Prokofiev flute sonata and Saint-Saens' Tarantelle for flute, clarinet, and piano. By this time I was already struggling with stress and it was beginning to have a negative effect on my playing. After a several rehearsals on the Prokofiev and a couple coachings with the pianists' teacher, she told me that her teacher had decided that another flutists should play the Prokofiev. No one had indicated to me that there were significant issues with my playing. The pianist hadn't voiced any concerns to me directly (I don't know that it would have served anyone well if she had; it likely would have had the unintentional consequence of looking tacky on her part), her teacher hadn't said anything to me, and my own professor hadn't said anything either. I should add here that maybe they did, maybe someone did try to tell me that I was not up to snuff. If they did though, I never got the message.

This was the start of significant issues for me. My self esteem dropped, my playing continued to suffer. This manifested in two significant ways: long phrases were impossible (even "normal" length phrases were very difficult), and playing anything in the second octave (especially C/B/A's). Once I had moved to south Florida, my anxiety eventually got so bad that some days I couldn't even produce a sound. I remember once having to literally tell myself that everything was okay and I was fine just holding the flute down by my side.  Keep in mind that I had just finished my MM in flute performance and I had given my final degree recital only a year before. This was the tipping point for me.

In either 2013 or 2014 I started going to therapy for anxiety. I was teaching very part-time at a university and thankfully was able to sign up for therapy for very cheap. Going to therapy really helped provide me with tools to manage my thoughts and stress levels, and I was able to get back to playing although I still struggle with performance anxiety.

It's been a long time coming, but I am feeling more comfortable and confident about myself and my playing. I still have times of worry, but they are usually shorter and I have ways to handle the situation.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Facing Uncertainty

I find myself unsure of how to assess myself, how to "rate" where I am in life. By many accounts I'm doing just fine, even doing exceptionally well! I'm co-running a small but worthwhile arts non-profit, I have ample work (too much work, even), things are good.

Except when it comes to my actual relationship with music. I don't practice anymore. Honestly, the main reason is because I just don't have time. Each day is a marathon - get up early, barely make it out the door in time, race around all day going from obligation to obligation, and come crashing into bed just in time to get almost a good night's sleep before doing it again. I don't have any time left in my schedule to devote to practicing, certainly not practicing regularly. When is my next performance? April, maybe. Maybe.

Every once in a while I have a little time to play. I practiced for 20 minutes on Monday, it had been probably close to a month since I last took my flute out of its case, well over a month since the time before that. Part of me feels like I should just become one of those people who "used" to play an instrument, who "used" to be a musician - I'm halfway there already. Even as I type this though, it hurts, it really causes me pain.

I see people I used to perform with, I used to dream of becoming when I "grew up," and all I see is the unattainable. Even the times I've been able to play, to perform, it's been a whirlwind of stress and worry instead of medicine for my soul. I would love to play again, to feel the deep personal satisfaction of making something beautiful, and doing it well. I just don't know how I'm supposed to get back that joy, how to light that fire.

When I daydream of starting it back up again, my brain immediate comes up with grandiose ideas that sound great to my dreamer self, but don't meet the standards of my pragmatic side. The thought of practicing once a week, let alone everyday is realistically nothing more than a chore. It's another thing that I have to do, otherwise I've failed and fallen behind. It's almost easier to just push it down and forget about it than to try and remedy the situation.

It's easy to say "Just play for fun! Just throw a recital together! Just find a little gig here or there!" Playing isn't really fun if it comes at the expense of not doing something else that's realistically more important or time sensitive. As a professional musician and someone who runs a performing arts organization, "throwing something together" only works if the end product is really great, which it can't be if you don't have the time to amply prepare. I can't just take little gigs here or there if I don't have the time of day to go to the gig!

It's funny how I picked the moniker "The Balanced Flutist," and balance seems to be the most elusive thing in my life. It's not that my life is bad. It's not that I don't have tons of amazing things going on - I do. I just keep finding myself in situations where I've gone too far to one side, where one part of my life is sucking the life out of the rest of me.

Time to re-evaluate a few things, rebalance my life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Building and Maintaining Consistency When Doubling

I've recently begun preparing music for four concerts between now and the end of June, and I'll be doing a lot of doubling. The first concert is only alto and sopranino recorder, the second is both recorders and flute. The third is going to be my first multiple woodwinds recital (piccolo, flute, clarinet, alto sax, and alto recorder) ever, and as the woodwinds professor at NSU.

The main concept I have to remind myself about - which is not earth-shattering - is that you must carry over as many concepts as possible when doubling. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the differences between instruments that basic concepts fall by the wayside.
Concepts like:
- consistent airflow
- swift, relaxed finger motion
- clarity in tone and articulation
- intonation

It's far too easy to let yourself think "Oh, I'm just running through this, I'll worry about intonation(tone/fingerings/etc.) later."

The issue here is that by allowing yourself to essentially drop your guard this one time you're setting yourself up for inconsistency in performance later, which is a much steeper price to pay than to just focus in on an issue when it springs up. I remember once when I was still in school I was playing clarinet in the pit for "Annie Get Your Gun." I hadn't prioritized clarinet, and wasn't practicing properly or enough. In the middle of the show one night I went to play an exposed solo - and completely blanked. I simply couldn't remember which key to press! If I had just been practicing the tiniest bit, I really doubt that would have happened.

If you're getting back into the routine of doubling, try this:
Set aside some time *before* your practice session starts to plan out your practice session. Incorporate some time to work on fundamentals (tone, articulation, scales) before delving into repertoire. I also strongly recommend that you work toward a "standard warm-up" for each instrument. Whenever I practice other woodwinds, I start my practice the same way and it always helps me "settle" into the new horn quickly and easily. Even something as simple as five minutes at the beginning of a session will an immediate impact on your practice session and, perhaps more importantly, will set you up for long term success.

Monday, October 6, 2014

October Update

It has been a ridiculous amount of time since I last posted, and a lot has happened! This semester at NSU brought a very strong start to the Pro Musica Ensemble, which I'm glad to be co-directing (check out the Upcoming Events page). I got married in September, and just last week finally bought a new (to me) clarinet. The end of this week (October 10th) is also my one year anniversary at ASM, where I teach piano. Good times!


Friday, August 22, 2014

Lovewell Institute

I'm so glad I got to work at the Lovewell Institute this past July. This arts program for elementary through high school students has been around since 1989. These students got to write, rehearse, and perform their own complete musical. It was a great experience! I was a music intern for the Teen show, and our show ended up being about a vaudeville troupe circa 1913 struggling to deal with the introduction of silent films and the decline of live performance.

Awesome experience? Yes.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Summer Plans

Originally, I had this grand idea that after my recital I would hit the ground running and would plow through at least one more technique book plus etudes and new repertoire, but as the dust settled I realized that I want to use this "down time" to refocus my efforts as a performer and teacher. I want to approach my practice in a more holistic manner. This will help reduce muscle tension and pain. Instead of seeing how much ground I can cover this summer, I want to take this time to reevaluate how I've been achieving my goals. While I am proud of the work I've put in this academic year, and of the progress I've made, I want to make efforts to tweak my habits toward a more healthy approach.

The longer I've been teaching keyboard the better my playing has gotten, but I'd like to spend some time this summer working on really becoming a more well-equipped pianist. Part of this will require me to just squeeze in a little extra practice time here and there, but I'll also be doing a lot of reading. I've currently been working my way through two texts that a colleague at the university loaned me (A Symposium for Pianists and Teachers: Strategies to Develop the Mind and Body for Optimal Performance edited by Kris Kopff, and The Well-Tempered Keyboard Teacher by Marienne Uszler). It's great to be able to say that I've recognized some of those pedagogical approaches or encountered the same issues as I've been teaching, but it's strangely even more exciting to see how much of this field I'm just not familiar with as I keep investigating.

I'm also working on a couple side projects, including a scale book geared towards woodwind doublers and general woodwind teachers like myself (but more on that later).