Music Collective

Posted by: tyonce on: August 21, 2011

Welcome to Music Collective, an online blogging community of musicians. We strive to entertain and inform you, covering the gamut of musical specialties from music business to early music. Welcome, stay awhile, and feel free to join the discussion!

Time Off

Posted by: tyonce on: August 1, 2014

This month, I did something I haven’t done in recent memory.

I took a vacation.

Now, to be fair, I have gone on vacation in the past five years. But it always included work. I brought a computer and flute along, and felt obligated to keep up with email, practicing, reading, writing, and idea generating. While I enjoyed myself, there was always that pressure to work underscoring everything.

This time, I didn’t bring my laptop along. My flute was in the repair shop but I brought a backup. I brought one work-related book. And of course I had my phone, which kept me tied to colleague-friends.  But most of the projects I have been working on, including my ever-expanding etude project, came to a grinding halt. I spent nearly four weeks away from work, visiting family and friends, and spending the last week on the beach. Living in the middle of the country for the past couple of years has made me realize how much I miss the coast, and it is always a restorative place to visit. There the days run into each other, and the passing of time is marked by afternoon thundershowers, amazing sunsets, and the changing tides. It took a while for me to decompress, but I am more relaxed than I have been in a very long time.

I practiced just a bit but it was when I truly felt like it, and it was for short periods of time. I read just a couple of chapters of my work-related book. I came up with a bunch of new ideas, but they were spontaneously generated. I made a note of them and will work on them later. Instead of the usual type of productivity, I picked blueberries and made a bunch of blueberry syrup. I visited parents, grandparents, brothers, aunts, uncles, and in-laws. My husband and I spent an epic whirlwind couple of days with Al Theisen in Asheville, North Carolina; we also had a great time with friends, including Michael Kallstrom, in Kentucky. I visited old high school friends who still live in my hometown. I ate well, including home cookin’ as well as meals at restaurants such as Hugh Acheson’s 5&10Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta, and Southern Soul BBQ in Saint Simons Island, GA. I spent time in Athens, GA and St. Louis. I drove through 10 different states. I bought a stack of new books from the excellent bookstore on Jekyll Island, GA. And I spent a glorious week at my favorite place: the Golden Isles of Georgia.

I made my semi-annual trip to the grocery store specifically to buy regional food that I can’t find in the upper midwest. Vidalia onions, honey, muscadine wineWhite Lily flourCheerwineDuke’s mayonnaise, pecan rice, cornmeal, and Southern Soul BBQ sauce now fill my pantry until my next trip home.

This post is a departure from the usual, but so was this month. And guess what? The world is still spinning, my career still seems to be intact, and I am refreshed and ready to jump back in. Maybe I’ll make this vacation-thing a regular occurrence.

Ode to a Secondary Instrument

Posted by: jdunnavant on: June 11, 2014

One recent evening, I sat down at the piano. The room was dark, save for the piano lamp, and for a moment I just sat there, keys before me, enjoying a sense of anticipation. I set my music on the stand, and for the first time in about fifteen years, I hesitantly worked my way through the first of Debussy’s Deux Arabesques. It was slow and halting; there were more than a few wrong notes. I was deeply and pleasantly surprised to find that I had not completely forgotten how to play that piece of music in all the years between my last piano lesson and that evening.

I am a flutist. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that. Without remorse, I chose the flute and I’d choose the flute again if the choice were placed before me. I’m an extrovert, I love orchestral music, and I am still addicted to the way it feels to soar high above the rest of an ensemble, my sound all silvery and rich. But the piano was my first love, and my first instrument.

Picture this: there I was, all of six years old, heading for my first piano lesson. A lady named Mrs. Cosby came to my elementary school and taught us once each week in a room that I remember as being dark, drippy, with a bare bulb hanging from a wire–and she was a tartar. She would whack my wrist when I made a mistake. Even before then, I played at the piano. My mother is a pianist, and I can remember sitting on the floor, playing with toys while she practiced, or sitting on the bench beside her, watching her fingers move. It never occurred to me that everyone doesn’t have at least an upright in their home until I was about eleven years old!

Photographic evidence--Age 2

Photographic evidence–Age 2

Years passed. We began to move around, and my mother became my teacher. I devoured method books, easy repertoire, anything I could find. I studied piano as a secondary instrument at Sewanee one summer, and as an undergrad, I was allowed to skip class piano and go straight to lessons. I loved them, but I could feel a breakup coming…there simply wasn’t enough time in my day to practice two instruments enough to progress on both and to keep all the teachers happy. It was piano that most often fell neglected to the side as I advanced as a flutist, and about halfway through my junior year, a blessedly honest piano teacher suggested to me that I get through the rest of the semester, and then let it go.

After that, I played with my flute students in their lessons, picking out important parts of their accompaniment to supplement the amount of rehearsal time they could have. I sat and messed around from time to time, missing it, but still needing flute time more. After grad school, I began to teach beginning and elementary piano along with flute lessons, and later to accompany flutists when a “real” pianist wasn’t available. Still, I remembered being able to play Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, and I could feel, acutely, how low my level of playing was compared to those days.

Do you have a secondary instrument, musicians reading this post? Do you ever feel like you’re not a “real” whatever? Because here is the thing I have realized over these most recent years of being a piano teacher and accompanist: my knowledge, my background and my experience are absolutely real. Not having a degree in piano doesn’t detract from that. I may never have that high level of playing back–there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to practice enough to make that happen.  But my love of that instrument is most definitely real, and the lives I change as a teacher are most definitely real.

Back to the living room, Monday night. I played through the Debussy, slow and dreamy, which is the way I like it although not really such an accurate way to play that piece. I felt suffused with a determination to pull out my Czerny, to practice my scales, to get back to where I once was. Will it happen? Probably not. I’m much more likely to practice the flute for this summer’s upcoming performances. Still, I feel that tug toward the piano like the tug of an old love, spotted at a restaurant, and just like a sighting of that old love, it makes me stop and smile.

 

Another Symphony Closes

Posted by: Paula Brusky on: May 20, 2014

On May 3rd the Green Bay Press-Gazette had a front page story stating that the 2014 season would be the last season of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra (GBSO).  This organization has been performing for 100 years, but can’t cover costs any longer so they are ending after 5 scheduled events, effectively closing April 11, 2015.  There are LOTS of reasons an organization, especially a symphony, ends up closing.  But there were a few choices made in recent years by the GBSO that brought about this announcement.

First, the community doesn’t feel connected.  An orchestra is supposed to be interlaced in the community.  One of the main reasons people go to concerts is they know someone on stage.  A large portion of the GBSO comes from Chicago or out of the Green Bay region.  This is dumb for two reasons: 1. these players have no fan base in the area; 2. you have to pay more in mileage to reimburse these players so every rehearsal and concert costs more then using a local player.  There are a LOT of equally qualified musicians in the area but union regulations and orchestral hiring procedures made it so many of the players aren’t local.  A successful symphony has outstanding musicians that live in the performance region.

Another non-local hire that damaged the Orchestra was the music director hiring in 2011. Donato Cabrera is an outstanding musician.  Playing for him is a treat, he is an outstanding conductor that brings out the best in his musicians.  But Donato is not local to Green Bay.  He never intended to move to Green Bay.  Green Bay was always a short stop on his rise to the conducting big leagues.  He is an outstanding musician that brought great musicality to the orchestra but he did not bring a local fan base.  Most of the people in the area have no idea how lucky they are to see one of his concerts.  So his hiring actually didn’t help make the orchestra money.  The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, on the other hand, hired Philip Mann as music director.  He is a great musician and very personal guy, just like Donato.  But unlike Donato, Philip and his beautiful wife moved to Little Rock.  They are now faces in the community every day.  They are building relationships and patrons in every action they do.  For example, Philip was recently showcased as the guest of honor for “Celebrity Cocktail Month” in downtown Little Rock.  Philip is growing a fan base and interest in the symphony that will bring patrons.

The quote from Green Bay Mayor, Jim Schmitt,  “Fortunately for us, we still have the civic symphony” highlights the other major reason GBSO is closing.  Quality.  If a civic symphony is deemed as the same quality as a symphony orchestra something isn’t going right for your organization.  Your outstanding music director hire didn’t give you visible quality to the common patron.  Why?  Because your choice at cutting rehearsals to fit the budget means he doesn’t have time to bring genius, he’s just directing traffic.  Orchestras need to rehearse.  There are a 100 people on stage that are trying to get to a unified musical opinion.  This takes time.  And time costs money.  Lots of money.  So one of the ways orchestras have been saving money is limiting rehearsals.  For a pops concert, which has 2.5-hours of music, they would schedule one 3-hour rehearsal.  Many of the players would arrive at the rehearsal without having researched the piece, they just learned their notes and have no clue how it goes together (which brings up the topic on orchestra culture…another time….)  This means that the orchestra is grossly under rehearsed.  What is more amazing is that this one rehearsal is on the day of the concert so the performers are not fresh for the concert and are likely exhausted, physically and mentally, before the performance begins.  (Liken it to the Packers playing a full game scrimmage O v. D before playing the Bears, that’s just silly.)  What is even more confusing is that the shortened rehearsal period is always for pops performances because this music is seen as inferior to the major classical repertoire.  Regardless of it’s “value” pops music is often times medleys that change keys and tempos twice a page so they require a lot more rehearsal.  Furthermore, the musicians have likely not played an arrangement of a pops tune before so their unfamiliarity warrants more rehearsal, not less.  And the reason this lack of rehearsing is a problem for the quality of the orchestra is that these “fluff concerts” that are under rehearsed are usually the concerts that will attract new patrons.  So a family comes for the first time and they expect to hear a new level of performance standard, but instead they hear an under rehearsed orchestra trying to get through the program.  This makes the true hallmark of a symphony orchestra, the outstanding musical quality, not audible to the consumer.  The lack of rehearsal time negates the choice to hire a non-local conductor and musicians because you aren’t giving them the time to create a stellar product.  And without a stellar musical product, there is no place for a symphony orchestra in the marketplace.

Ready for your Close-up?

Posted by: jdunnavant on: May 8, 2014

 Are You Ready for your Close-up?

It’s that time again…recital time. I have students playing in five different recitals this week, ranging from the babiest of beginners, standing up in public for the first time, to advanced high school students in whom I have total faith for a good performance.

Sitting in the audience, waiting for one of them to come on stage, I am a wreck. Let me just state that for the record! I am personally willing to perform, solo, in front of hundreds of people, a concerto that I decided to memorize roughly six days before the performance. Seriously. I did that, two years ago. It went well. I am willing to sight-read an opera on opening night when the regular second flutist gets food poisoning. I’m willing to perform four concerts on three instruments in 48 hours–and I’ll be cool as a cucumber. But put one of my students up on stage…and I’ll be a bundle of nerves, beating heart, sweaty palms and all!

Am I concerned that my students will embarrass me, or themselves? I don’t think so. It’s just that they work so hard, for so long, for that one chance to stand up with a pianist in front of their friends, families and band directors, and I know how many performances it takes to be able to manage your nerves, how many shaky moments there have to be before a performer decides to forgo the drama of fear and just get on with it. And because they work so hard and try so hard, I fear their discouragement.

Morgan Sp 14

Think back, if you’re a performer. At the very beginning, everything seems great. You got a few right notes! It’s a win! But as your knowledge of what a good performance is increases, it’s harder and harder to remember what went well, and far easier to punish yourself with memories of what was less than perfect. And when you’re busy punishing yourself, it is very, very easy to decide that really, music isn’t worth the effort you must put in to excel. And THAT, my friends, is faulty logic, because what I also know is that to get past something like stage fright, you have to go through it. There are extreme cases, people for whom that won’t work, but I’m not talking about them. For most of us, what it takes to overcome that fear is standing up on stage, more than one time, and realizing that you won’t die if you play a wrong note. What it takes to overcome that fear of being seen and heard is a determination to enjoy performing, while it’s happening to you, rather than accepting the fear as your due and never standing up to face yourself.

Do you hear what I’m saying? A great performer has to be willing to take a leap of faith–in him or herself. He must believe that all the work he’s done in preparation will not desert him in front of the crowd, but ultimately, he has to be willing to pick up and go on, even when it does. For that reason, I encourage all of my students to perform, whether or not they’re perfectly ready, whether or not they intend to go into music as a career, whether or not they have pleased me with good practice habits and learned the piece perfectly well. It simply doesn’t matter how they play, nearly as much as that they play–that they stand up to be counted, face hardship and persevere. Those are the lessons that carry far beyond the flute lesson, the high school band, the recital itself. That toughness is invaluable, and to earn it, there is no other option that to take that leap of faith right into the spotlight!

 

Hanging in the Balance

Posted by: jdunnavant on: April 8, 2014

Hanging in the Balance

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about work/life balance and this ever-popular notion that to have a perfect balanced life, we must leave work behind us at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. and have not a single thought about it until the clock chimes 9:00 the next morning. I fail completely at this, as evidenced by the fact that I was thinking about it this morning, in the shower, at 5:30 a.m. Advice that I receive far too frequently for my liking is the standard line–that I need to stop working, stop answering emails, stop thinking about work and just relaaaaaax.

I’m not sure where this pressure comes from. Perhaps from the same place that insists that every single citizen of humanity must have time, within each 24 hour period, to work, eat, sleep, exercise, socialize, shower affection on our loved ones and friends, and perhaps even create something artistic and lovely through the practice of a hobby? It comes from the same place that fertilizes the eternal argument that it is possible not only to have it all but to be perfect at it all. And it’s all lies.

Here’s the thing: I’m a freelancer, a small business owner. I don’t have the luxury of not answering an email or a phone call quickly, because that’s how you lose students and gigs. Even my friends with full-time, big time jobs in our field grade at home after hours (or in their offices ALL NIGHT. You know who you are!) We practice on nights and weekends, we do research, we travel to perform or to present papers and lectures. So…here’s the question to consider: is it even possible to have a life where you never think about work outside the confines of your work environment? And for those of us who work in fields where we are passionate creators, communicators and educators…do we really want that? Do we really desire the ability to turn off that side of ourselves in the name of a lazy afternoon?

If you read my post from a couple of months ago (http://www.musiccollective.org/2014/02/climbing-down-from-the-ivory-tower/), you might be thinking, “Hey! She was just talking about having lots of free time!” And I do have quite a bit of free time. I just can’t guarantee that it will always be between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m., plus all day on Saturdays and Sundays. Besides, some of my very best ideas come to me in the shower at 5:30 a.m., sitting at my vanity at 11:30 p.m., taking my walk at dawn or dusk, or (least favorite) sitting in traffic trying not to go crazy. If I refused the call of my imagination, I would lose out on so much more.

For a long time I have fought my schedule. I’ve tried putting my foot down and refusing to answer email after 8:00 p.m., leaving the grading for the next day (when I had one of those grading-heavy jobs), choosing to prepare teaching plans or pack my bags just before leaving the house. But I don’t function well that way. I sleep better and enjoy my down time more when I don’t have loads of tasks hanging over my head. I’d much rather clean the slate before I settle in for the night, and sometimes that means I’m doing things like writing blog posts at 10:00 p.m. And I know I’m not alone in this.

I don’t mind it so much. I didn’t become a musician because I had a deep-seated need to hold a job with regular hours, and in fact, when I have had those kinds of jobs, I have always felt stifled and bored. If you live in that world, then, by all means, leave it behind at the end of the work day! Go forth from your cubicle and learn a craft, dig into RPGs, roll on the grass–whatever it takes. But for the rest of us…can we just release this unrealistic pressure? Can we just let it go and agree not to needle each other about when things happen, as long as the important things DO happen? I think that what we should really be concerned about is not work/life balance so much as integrating work into our lives in ways that encourage and nourish joy. When we are joyful in our work, when it feeds something within us spiritually and emotionally, it stops feeling like work, and that is perhaps the most joyful thing of all!

Ron Evans and Musical Legacy

Posted by: tyonce on: March 31, 2014

A good friend passed away last recently, on 22 February. Truth be told, I think anyone who came in contact with him would consider him to be a “good friend.” He had that admirable quality of making everyone who he interacted with feel completely at ease. He was kind, generous of spirit, and a fine musician.

Ron Evans was the founder and conductor of the Northwinds Symphonic Band, which has existed in Gainesville, Georgia since 1984. He also was band director at several high schools in the Gainesville area before retiring in 1997 and served as a board member for music organizations in the north Georgia area.

I met Ron in 2005 after graduating from Indiana University and moving back to the north Georgia area. I was encouraged to join the Northwinds Symphonic Band, which primarily included band directors, music teachers, college music students, and professional musicians. My participation in this group was one of the best ensemble experiences I’ve ever had. He and the other directors were professional, detail-oriented, and insisted on quality performances. However, rehearsals and performances were fun, and I was always aware of how much the community appreciated our concerts.

The annual Memorial Day concert was always the highlight for me. Veterans were invited, of course, and would march around the venue during one particular piece on the program. All branches of the military were acknowledged, and it was quite moving to see service members of all ages making their way around the room. What a privilege to be able to honor them!

Another highlight during my time with Northwinds was when we toured south Georgia in 2011. We played a program that included marches and patriotic pieces. Ron dressed up as John Philip Sousa, and the crowds loved it. It was an experience like no other.

I moved to South Carolina for a short time before taking my current position in South Dakota. I continued to make the drive from South Carolina to north Georgia for Northwinds rehearsals because the experience was just that important and rewarding to me.

I have been reflecting over the past month on the extent of Ron’s legacy. During his career, he must have taught thousands of students. I’m sure he taught the children (maybe grandchildren?) of his first batch of students. He established an organization where professional musicians could come together and have a fun, fulfilling experience. He was well-respected by others in his field but also by those in the greater community. How many lives did he impact? How many high school students’ souls did he shelter by providing a demanding yet supportive experience? How many adult lives (like mine) did he enrich through his hard work with Northwinds?

What a legacy! What will mine be?

Time to get back to work.

Graduate School Auditions Gone Wrong

Posted by: rhacker on: March 23, 2014

It’s 9:50 PM on a Saturday night. In the past 24 hours, I had driven 360 miles, played a killer first graduate school audition, and then wrecked my car while driving back to my undergraduate campus.

According to my GPS, I was supposed to have gotten back to my apartment at 9:23 PM. I would drink a cheap bottle of moscato, which is currently sitting untouched on my kitchen counter. I had planned on wearing yoga pants and binge-watching New Girl on Netflix. My car would be virtually spotless- except for where it scraped against a concrete post by the Taco Bell drive thru.  None of the above things happened after 9:23 PM. Instead, I was 250 miles away from my apartment, alone, and exhausted.  I lay sprawled in a hotel room bed that wasn’t friendly to my checking account, and wandering what on earth was going to happen tomorrow.

Around 4:30 today, the winter weather turned nasty. Snow and slush dominated the stretch of interstate ahead of me. As the number of cars began to dwindle, I pondered getting off the interstate until the weather improved.  Before I could take a driving break from this rural stretch of highway, my car skidded to the right. Thanks to the laws of physics, my attempt at overcorrecting caused my car to glide across the left lane of traffic. My car rotated 180 degrees, and the front side crashed into the left side guardrail. I remember watching my car turn around one more time, and move back across the lanes. Finally, I hit the right guardrail before coming to a halt in the road’s shoulder.  The whole event was so surreal, that I have no idea how long this process was.  Of all songs to still be playing on my car radio, Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball was on.  However, the music fell on deaf ears in an otherwise silent environment.  My dashboard lit up with multiple icons simultaneously, and the motor was not sounding.  My neck felt stiff, but, above all, I felt unscathed.

Once the shock factor wore off, my head began to fill with questions.  . Nothing had prepared me for this moment.   In 3rd grade, my class learned about the Titanic. In 8th grade, we learned how to create a line graph on your graphing calculator. More recently, I conducted a passage from Carmina Burana for an Introduction to Conducting course. For the first time in my life, I called 911.  Even though it was warranted, I felt timid about it. As I waited for a cop to attend to me, I called my parents, and told them what happened.  After contacting AAA, I was told that no services could pick me up until midnight, due to the snow. Though it was only 6:00, night had fallen. My heating system was not functioning, and I had had not chosen to wear any heavy, winter clothing for the drive. The whooshing sound of cars and semi trucks to my left was too close for comfort. It was too cold, snowy, and dangerous to get out and check for damage on the front of my car.

With a faint southern drawl, a cop explained that I was going to have a local towing service take me to a “safer location.” I was 40 miles from my hometown, so I could have the car towed to a local garage. Thinking that I would sit with the driver in the truck, he said his wife and child were in the car, thus there was no room for my cold, terrified, self. This meant that I was going to stay in my car- as I got towed off the interstate.  There I was, 20 feet in the air, on the back of a tow truck.  I did the most mature thing possible in the situation- laugh and Instagram the moment.

The tow truck driver took me to a truck stop. By now, this rural truck stop in southern Ohio was the closest thing to Paradise.  After rushing past an Olde Fashioned Candy display, I found an ATM.  Naturally, it was broken, and I had to leave the tow truck driver my credit card number.  I was now truly alone, and without a plan.  Suddenly reminded of the pit in my stomach, I was in a great position to eat my feelings.  Boy, do those Ohio truck stops know how to appeal to my artery-clogged heart.   Drowning my troubles in cream gravy was a necessity at this point.

The truck stop restaurant was organized for communal eating.   Truck drivers inhaled menu items that included the word “smothered” in the title.  Many of them made small talk with each other. After making a few more frantic phone calls, I discovered that some of the truckers overheard my story. As I put my phone down, a husky, male voice yelled over “Ya shouldn’t have put on the breaks!” in a teasing manner.  My story had peaked the interest in some of the drivers. I told them I’m from Cleveland. We talked about the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and the conversation helped my mind drift to a more optimistic state.

It was decided that AAA would cover for me to stay at a hotel in easy walking distance from the truck stop. Fortunately, this was an awesome hotel, and I finally saw “the light at the end of the tunnel.” So here I am, after a long, hot, bath, I reading “9:50,” in digital numbers.  Despite my crazy evening, it was easier to smile than to frown, because I am still alive.  Eyeing my music backpack in the corner of the room, I remember that I could have been seriously injured, and that I will still make music for many years to come.  Reminders such as this one will allow me to close my eyes, and drift to sleep in the next few minutes.

Leopards and Spots

Posted by: jdunnavant on: March 1, 2014

Can a Leopard Change her Spots?

It was a good lesson, with a good student. She was playing a great piece that we both loved, and she was playing it well. Over the weeks she spent learning that solo, her musicality and technique developed, her vibrato deepened, her tone color matured. Still, there was that place. That one place. You know the one–the one where she learned a wrong note during the first week, and despite reminders, despite marking up her part, despite every attempt an engaged teacher can make to trip her memory in time to play the right note…she’s still missing it.

That story is probably familiar to many of my teacher friends. I’m not even writing about just one of my students, because they all do this. I find, sometimes, when I revisit a piece of music that I first learned as a student, I still have the same places that I must dive into with a fine-tipped scalpel, so well did I learn my mistakes! We all have our spots. What can we do (pardon me, leopards everywhere) to change those spots?

That Place I Miss Every Time

When I’m faced with a teenage problem, I tend to think back to my teenage self. I had some wonderful teachers, and I am forever grateful to them. That said, I grew up in a fairly small town, and that meant that we had to drive far enough for flute lessons that I didn’t get them every week. A lot of my development happened because of my determination to become a good listener, to sound like my favorite flutists, to master my own obvious inadequacies.

I can remember feeling frustrated the first time I realized that although I thought I was ready for an upcoming honor band audition, I couldn’t play through the excerpt without stopping. I knew that I should be able to do it smoothly, like the instrumentalists I heard on recordings. But how to make that happen?

“I know!” I thought. “I’ll drill it. If I play it enough times, surely I’ll get it right?” In my fifteen-year-old wisdom, this was the perfect answer. The result, of course, is that I learned my mistakes with an almost indelible accuracy. They weren’t a phone number written in ink on my palm–they were a tramp stamp covering half my back! What I could not teach myself was this: until the mistake is isolated and corrected, then worked back into the passage, it will continue to be a mistake. Until enough of the performer’s mind is free to anticipate the coming of that spot and then make a different choice, the mistake will stand.

It’s that last idea that I think is most important. You must be able to choose, to make the music happen rather than simply allowing it to happen to you. In the end, all the practice techniques I had learned (chunking, rhythms, five times without an error, tongue it all, slur it all, slow it down, do it backwards…the list goes on) were effective, but without that last step, without the ability to choose a different outcome in real time, they did not solve my problem. That skill is hard to master and harder to teach!

Encouraging Choice

I find it helpful to write a short note–two or three words–a measure or two before the problem spot. I’ll write something like “here it comes!” or “remember the spot!” and that will usually flip the switch for me. I find that a note written at the precise place where my mistake usually happens is worse than useless. It will distract me more than the spot itself as I try to figure out what I wrote and why.

Of course, part of practice is practicing not only the notes but also the feeling of performance. Part of practicing is learning to replicate, every time, the proper flow of music and ideas, organized and timed to allow a technically competent and musically moving performance. Learning to change those trouble spots is part of this process.

With my students, I will start with an explanation of what I think is going wrong. After we have worked out the technical issue, when we start trying to work the passage back in, I will quietly speak to them at the point when I want them to remember that the spot is coming. I find that they will remember by themselves after a few reminders from me, and that once they remember that the place is coming, it’s only a few more steps to having a problem that is completely fixed.  Perhaps most important, I bring home to them the message that it’s not enough to drill a passage, even with good techniques, if you can’t take that last step, that step that involves choosing the right note, the right rhythm, the right breath. Otherwise, every time, you’re just choosing the mistake!

The Stress of an Entrepreneur

Posted by: Paula Brusky on: March 1, 2014

Being busy and being stressed IS the status quo these days.  But Entrepreneurs have a whole other level of stress, the stress of innovation.  By definition an entrepreneur has to be thinking ahead of the crowd in order to create something new and awesome.  As a result, entrepreneurs often feel isolated and have a constant anxiety surrounding them.  Entrepreneurs have to jump off cliffs routinely; the good ones do diligent research first so they are pretty sure where they are going to land, but they still have to have faith in themselves and jump.  Often times, right before their feet leave the cliff side they think “what the XXXX am I doing”.  But they have committed, they’ve done their research, and it’s time to believe in themselves and get it done.

The problem with this leap of faith is that it often negatively impacts their personal relationships.  The stress before jumping is consuming, terrifying and exciting….and terrifying.  An entrepreneur will be more secure taking this leap if the ground they are jumping from is stable.  If their family and friends are supportive and vocal in their support, the ground the entrepreneur is pushing from seems to make it easier to jump.  If instead the people close to the entrepreneur erode their confidence the ground on the cliff face feels like an earthquake and it is hard to get footing to leap, which adds to the stress and anxiety.  It is imperative to the success of an entrepreneur to have the people closest to them support and stabilize their foundation because everything else in their world is in flux.

A lot of entrepreneurs don’t understand the direct correlation of their home life on their business.  They don’t see that the stress of their endeavors puts stress on their home life and as a result their family and friends rotate through as the stress of the entrepreneurial world consumes them.  A lot of relationships seem to end for entrepreneurs right before a big breakthrough; the relationships deteriorate under the stress.  There are two ways to limit this and create a strong base of support.  First, pick strong, stable people who believe in you and are ready to support your leaping off cliff faces.  People who are excited to be part of your crazy entrepreneurial life and know that the risks suck but the rewards are amazing.  Don’t carry baggage in people that hinders your trajectory, some people are too risk adverse to understand your need to innovate.  The people you choose around you are critical to your success.  Second, talk to the people around you.  Let them know when your anxiety and blood pressure are skyrocketing so they are prepared for your possible (likely) irrational moments.  Try to breath and lower your stress by doing activities away, outdoors, that help stabilize you.  Find moments of peace and relish the chance to calm yourself.  The people who belong in your life will sense your anxiety growing and minimize it where possible, they’ll see the bags under your eyes and ask how they can help.  This help may be doing a simple chore for you or just listening to you freak out over a future you can’t control but are trying, really hard, to.  When you do screw-up (which you will) and lash out at someone you love, apologize, explain, and ask for forgiveness.  Trying to change the world doesn’t give you permission to be a jerk, but it may happen sometimes under the stress of innovation.  The people who belong in your life will accept that, understand, and help you find your footing when you loose it.   They will also know what you can do to make it up to them!  And do it, because your support system is the most important thing in your entrepreneurial journey.

Friends Don’t Let Friends…Apply to Grad School

Posted by: rhacker on: February 5, 2014

It was 2:19 PM on Thursday, November 21st, 2013.  My eyes scanned the computer screen like a 12 year old girl who found her mother’s copy of Cosmopolitan magazine.  My mind was racing. “Is that email address spelled correctly?”  “Should I check the BWV number on the Bach Sonatas in my repertoire list?” “What if I used the wrong draft of my writing sample?”  At the bottom of the lengthy webpage, the words ‘Submit’ teased my conscience.  My finger clicked downwards on the silky metal mousepad of my MacBook. “What had I just done?”  For the tenth time that hour, I wiped my perspiring palms onto my sweatpants.  As the unofficial Conservatory Fashionista, I vowed to never wear sweatpants in public, or any clothing with the name “sweat” in the title.  However, completing these applications got the best of my fashion preferences.

I was seated in the “quiet zone” of the library, along with one other senior class member, also completing his applications.  “I did it!” were the words that resounded in the piercing silence, and brought his eyes to looking at my workstation.   Stating this fact aloud was entirely unnecessary, yet, so gratifying to the hours of work that had just culminated in this submission. “You did what?” he asked, rather amused at my noisy proclamation. “I turned in my first app!”  I began to feel like a preschooler who just learned to tie her shoes. “Oh cool,” he replied, “I’m trying to submit all of mine this weekend.”  The room was silent again, and the brief feeling of triumph quickly wore off.  I realized that submitting all four graduate applications was an atrocity to feel guilty about.  My laptop felt sleek and metallic like a murder weapon.  I slid it quickly into my backpack, as if trying to destroy evidence.  Scurrying out of the library, in both triumph and fear, I let a hearty flute practice session cloud my anxiety for a few hours.

I’m thoroughly convinced that graduate school applications are more complex than the actual coursework I’ll be doing in a few months.  It’s easy to recount all of the weekends in November that I forewent my social life, so that I could work on something related to the apps.  Karaoke night at the local bar with all of my crew was put on hold for a few weeks. There was the aforementioned problem of wearing sweat-things so that I could sleep longer in the morning, after a long night of writing or editing documents.  I would even wake up in the middle of the night, and think about the formatting of a section on my resume.

The deadline of December 1st approached and left. I have reflected upon the application process, and realize that this was one of the best activities for building my professional skills. At the end of the day, I can feel very proud of the having completed such complex applications.  I have a sparkling resume, an attention-grabbing writing sample, and a keener sense of organizational skills than ever before. I learned how to use iMovie for my prescreening audition DVD’s.   The application process is rather Darwinistic in nature. It is as if Admissions committees sit around and conspire on how to make the most complex application possible.  Considering I can’t even find matching socks on a regular basis, I guess I’m doing pretty well for myself right now.

Now that my apps are in, and auditions are scheduled, I wait.  Completing applications was a steadfast reminder that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.  Although I sound like a tacky motivational poster found in a middle school health classroom, it is true.  Many times, the only way I have improved myself is through physical or mental discomfort. Now, if only I could remember that previous sentence during every difficult activity in my life.

Paula Brusky - Bassoonist, injury prevention expert, professor, founding director of BCMCC.
Alexis Del Palazzo - Flutist, contemporary music enthusiast, musician wellness expert.
Jessica Dunnavant - Flutist, professor, early music enthusiast.
Rachel Hacker - Flutist, undergraduate music major
Diane Haslam - Singer, professor, writer.
Robin Massie-Pighee - Violist, teacher, executive director of Musicians of Mercy
Bart Walters - Jazz and classical saxophonist, popular music expert, former Army musician.
Tammy Evans Yonce - Flutist, professor, chamber and orchestral musician, contemporary music fan.