Friday, June 24, 2016

Moving On Up!

A couple weeks ago, I was voted in as Executive Director of Arts at St. John's, the non-profit I've been working for for the past two years. I began working in marketing and on a couple grants, then a year ago I stepped up to become Artistic Director, where I planned and ran events, and now this! I'm now in charge of all day-to-day events, grants, staffing, marketing, all sorts of stuff! It's daunting, but I think I'm up for the challenge!

I'm also currently the Interim Director of Music for the church, which is a blast! Scott has moved on to a different church, so I'm filling in temporarily, although I hope it becomes permanent. I've enjoyed conducting the choir over the last two months, it's been a real learning experience!

I'm hoping to plan a recital for the fall with all contemporary or "modern" music. We'll see if I can get it all worked out!

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).

Monday, May 12, 2014

Recital in Review

Yesterday I had the distinct privilege of presenting a recital at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale. While I haven't yet heard any recordings yet, I'm satisfied with my playing. It wasn't perfect, but I'm okay with that.

As I was preparing for this, I thought quite often about the "how" of the process. How many times should I run my entire program? How should I arrange the music on the program? How many programs should I print? I also began to think about what others thought of this process, so I asked. I created a survey and put it on my Twitter and asked you to share your perspective, and 38 people shared their opinions! Here's what I found, and I'll add my own thoughts as well. I do want to note that every question was multiple choice, so the results don't fall into neat percentages.

First, I wanted to know how repertoire is picked:
I pick music that I like.
67.57%
25

I try to pick music that my audience will enjoy.
45.95%
17

Anything, really.
24.32%
9

Always new music!
13.51%
5
Total Respondents: 37

I tend to go for a mix of all of these. For this recital, I picked works that I had been wanting to perform for a long time, some of which I thought would also be audience pleasers. There were also a couple works I chose because I felt they were important for me to perform as a musician and flutist. For example, I had never performed a work with extended techniques, so I programmed two contemporary works that I felt would be good for me as a first-timer.

When asked how early rehearsals start:
9-12 months - I start before I even know I want to do the recital!
2.63%
1

6-9 months - Lots of time!
47.37%
18

3-6 months - Not too much time, not too little!
47.37%
18

0-3 months - I like the pressure!
15.79%
6
Total Respondents: 38

I technically started preparing around 6-9 months ago, but my real work didn't happen until about the 4 month mark. I liked that I felt I had time to not be rushed, but also felt some pressure to not slack off. One work I intentionally waited to begin preparing (Piazzolla's Tango Etude #1) and I enjoyed having the extra pressure of less time for that work, especially since there were works that I had been practicing on-and-off for over a year.

How people prefer to prepare multiple works:
A little bit of everything!
15.79%
6

I focus on one work at a time. I have to feel comfortable before I'll move on to the next work.
5.26%
2

Somewhere between, it depends on which pieces I feel need the most work.
81.58%
31
Total Respondents: 38

Overall I worked on a little of everything, but sometimes you have to just focus on one or two works for a while to get them up to where you want them to be.

How much do you record yourself?
Never.
13.16%
5

Occasionally (1-3 times a month)
39.47%
15

Fairly regularly (1-2 times a week)
39.47%
15

Often (3-4 time a week)
5.26%
2

Always. The recorder is constantly on!
5.26%
2
Total Respondents: 38

I put myself in the "fairly regularly" category. I found that recording often was really helpful, but sometimes I just didn't have the time to listen between practice sessions. Whenever that happens, those recordings become old news really quickly.

What tools do you use in practice?
Metronome
94.59%
35

Pitch Drone
27.03%
10

Audio Recorder
59.46%
22

Video Recorder
21.62%
8
Total Respondents: 37
Several people added Tuner and Mirror in the comment section (I forgot to include those two!) I never made a video recording of myself but I think I really need to do that next time around. Here's a comment that I really liked:
"Skype for playing for people; email accountability group to share daily practice times; Music Journal app ; or chart. Lift app for tracking practice times, slow play times and motivating me."
I love the resourceful integration of technology, plus the tracking and sharing of daily practice times. 

Do you run the entire program in advance of the recital?
Yes
94.74%
36

No
5.26%
2
Total

I hadn't given a recital since 2010, so I was very worried about stamina and nerves. I ran the entire program every weekday the week before the recital, and it was probably the best thing I could have done. It assured me that I wouldn't wear out before the second half even started, and gave me a chance to remember what it was like to walk "on stage" and simply have to deliver no matter what happens.

How often do you run through the entire program?
Never.
0.00%
0

One week before the program
27.03%
10

2-3 weeks in advance
59.46%
22

4-6 weeks in advance
18.92%
7

7+ weeks in advance
2.70%
1
Total Respondents: 37

While I think that the way ran the program multiple times in the week preceding was extremely helpful, the people who voted for 2-3 weeks in advance hit the nail on the head. Starting run-throughs a little earlier would allow extra time to go back and re-hone some spots that I could never hit right on during a mock performance. By waiting until the last week, there were some unexpected rough spots that came up that I just couldn't give the time they needed.

What is your main instrument?
Woodwinds
57.89%
22

Brass
7.89%
3

Strings
18.42%
7

Piano
5.26%
2

Percussion
0.00%
0

Voice
10.53%
4
Total Respondents: 38

Here are some of my favorite tips that people gave:
- "Always be able to play through the recital twice, then it will be no problem to play through it once."
Amen! I'm adding this one to my plans for next time as well!

- "I think it's a good idea to have a balance between pieces that represent the style periods of art music (or genres, for those who play a wider repertoire)."

- "Practice in the shoes and or clothing you plan to perform in before hand in case you are not comfortable or have wardrobe malfunctions."
- "Run the full show three times prior to performance, including stage entrances and exits, cleaning the instrument, taking drinks, bowing, acknowledging composers, speaking to the audience, etc. while wearing any difficult components of performance attire (ie: shoes, jewelry)."

- This: "One can never be too prepared." And conversely: "Take it easy and do not over prepare pieces. Give yourself enough time to take breaks."
Both are very valid points. There are some things I wish I had prepared in a more efficient manner, but if I had worked on some that lit for another week I might have lost it.

- "I always practice slowly and isolate trouble spots. Also I listen to several recordings of each piece and score study them."
- "Imaging with the score, no instrument, in program order = most powerful tool the day before and day of, at the very least."
I sort of implemented some of both of these ideas. The night before I spot-checked each piece, but didn't do a run-through. The morning of the recital I listened to each work in concert order with the score, which was really great.

- "Slow practice is so important. Learn a piece slowly and correctly - speed will come much more organically."

- "Practice scales, technical exercises, ├ętudes all the time to help you learn repertoire more quickly. Being in good shape cuts down on recital prep time."

- "Think about the order the pieces will go in, try them in different orders. That's why I go through the program in order a couple times before the recital. Sometimes a piece that requires more stamina needs to be closer to the beginning, etc."

Special thank you to everyone who took the time to contribute to my survey!