As I write this, the concern over contracting the COVID-19 virus has gone from “If you or someone close to you have traveled recently to China” to a world-wide community transmission so quick that people are doing whatever they can to avoid further spread.
My corporate friends who work for global companies are telling me that all work-related travel has been suspended and that even personal travel must be cleared by managers. Here in Bermuda, we have been told that arriving from a “hot zone” might land you a 14-day quarantine sentence.
In the 9-5 world, those work-trips are being converted to video conference meetings and for the most part, life continues as normal. The biggest concern, from what I am hearing, is that people won’t be able to rack up quite as many business class frequent flyer miles to “fund” their family trips this summer.
For my in-person private lessons, between students, I wash my hands (Fun Fact: it takes about the recommended 20 seconds to hum the Imperial March Theme from Star Wars) and wipe down the chair, stand, and pencil, then I burn some sage and garlic and hope for the best.
(I’m kidding about that last part)
For folks who live in areas of concern, one can always teach online. Between Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime, online lessons are a great way to keep things going without having to be in the same room. I hope that music school administrators will be supportive of this method and that parents and teachers will take advantage of the option.
What happens to our concerts when venues close their doors? And if they don’t cancel our concert, but it requires us to travel in what might not be the safest circumstances? Do we cancel?
The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s long-awaited and much-publicized tour to China was canceled in the earliest days of the outbreak–well before travel to Asia was restricted. It seemed like a thoughtful precaution at the time. In hindsight? Very. Good. Decision.
And the Prime Minister of Japan canceled all public events 2 hours after the Gothenburg Symphony arrived at their Tokyo hotel, ready to kick off their 10-day concert tour. A Very disappointed orchestra was loaded up on airplanes and flown back to Sweden the next day.
So far, I have heard that Sanders Theater in Boston and Davies Hall in San Francisco have canceled all performances until late March. Interestingly though, Benaroya Hall in Seattle (one of the current “hot zones”) is still open for business. The Seattle Symphony is offering free ticket exchanges to anyone who would prefer to stay home, but the concerts are going on as planned.
Harvard University is taking a more modern approach. Tonight’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem is still happening, in spite of Sanders Theater being shuttered. While there will be no audience admitted into the hall, the concert will be live-streamed for anyone wishing to enjoy it from the comfort of their own home.
Obviously, the orchestra players of Boston and Gothenberg still received their normal paychecks, tour or no tour, but what about someone who is presenting their own concert? The smaller organizations that maybe don’t have iron-clad cancelation clauses–what do they do? There are “Act of God” clauses in a freelance contract, but what about a “public health threat.”?
Do you go ahead with the concert– potentially putting musicians and audience members at risk? Or do you cancel, possibly losing out on income you were depending on, and possibly only adding to an unnecessary level of panic?
I am due to head out on a two-week recital tour on the West Coast at the end of this month. I have concerts up and down the states of California, Oregon and in Seattle, WA. For some of the performances, it will be up to me whether they happen or not. For the University and School visits, they might be canceled for me as more and more administrations try to limit campus access to visitors.
In the time it took me to write this blog post, I received an email from another presenter asking whether I will be canceling my mid- April performance. That’s over a month away, folks!
My answer? I’m going to wait and see. I’ll have to weigh the positives and the negatives of both options. And we’ll need to see if this whole thing starts to get worse or better. It’s that darned domino effect. Even if I decide that it’s safe for me to go ahead with concerts in the PNW, will my home country let me back in as a person of free will? By staying true to 1 week of commitments, I may be forced to renege on 2 other weeks of work if I’m forced to quarantine myself.
At the end of the day, we all need to just make whatever decision feels like the best one at the time, and then live with it, In hindsight, it might seem silly to have canceled, but then again, with hindsight, we might wish we had.
I know I’m not the only one faced with these decisions. How are YOU handling it? What criteria is going into your decision making? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic. I fear it’s a situation we might be finding ourselves in again in the not-too-distant future. But I’m also thinking that this might be a great time to come up with some creative solutions.
Because we can’t just stop having concerts. The show really must go on, one way or another.
When I was a 5-year-old Suzuki student, I dutifully listened to my book 1 recording every night. I suppose I didn’t really have a choice. My mom would plunk me in the bathtub and press “play” on the old beat-up tape player that sat on the bathroom counter and walk out. I was held hostage in the tub until the last song was over, but I loved listening to those songs. They were a familiar comfort to me at the end of each epic day full of all of the new and unknown things kindergarten had to offer.
One day, while I was practicing, I glanced over to the next in my book. “O Come, Little Children”. I couldn’t really read the words, and I certainly hadn’t learned how to read the notes (we learned everything from memory and imitation in the first year). But I knew that I could figure it out from having heard it a hundred times. I thought I might impress my teacher by sitting down in my next lesson and playing it for her.
Let’s just say Mrs. Barston was not impressed. The kind but firm scolding that ensued came from her heart of hearts and the fact that she was such an incredible pedagogue. She made it quite clear: There were things she needed to show me how to do before I was able to play O Come Little Children correctly.
I was doing the bowings all wrong, and by trying it on my own, I had instilled mistakes that would be difficult to fix. Both my mother and I left that lesson promising to never more forward without instruction again.
And so it continues. In youth orchestra, in high school, summer festivals and at music school, Everything from what we play, who we play it with, how we play it, when our rehearsals will be, and when and where we will perform it is dictated to us from on high.
Certain students are chosen by the teachers to participate in competitions, and people are “invited” to audition for certain summer festivals. We all understand that “invited to audition” means you are being given a spot, and you will be going. If you’re the one given the opportunity, you smile, say thank you, and do it. If they didn’t ask you? just stay out of the way and don’t bring it up.
And so years later, there I was. A newly graduated, “capital P” Professional Musician. I was given gigs, called to play with certain groups, and it all felt strangely the same. Now I was allowed to say no, of course, but why would anyone say no to a gig? and the pattern continued. I sat at home and practiced, and eventually, the phone would ring or my notifications would ding and I would find out what was next for me.
It was after an embarrassingly long number of years that I suddenly wondered what would happen if I was the one to pick up the phone and create a concert. If I became, as Walter White famously said: “ The one who knocks” but, hopefully, with less disastrous consequences.
It was that day that I stopped waiting for “someone” to call me up and ask to be my manager and find concerts for me, and I just started finding my own concerts. I researched them, I created them, I made them happen. And they were (mostly) fun and my collaborations were (mostly) fulfilling. Did I make mistakes along the way? Of course. Did I learn a lot about how to do it? Of course. That’s how it works.
From musical decisions like programming, ideal length and structure, to logistical things like chairs and programs and tickets, I didn’t know what I didn’t know when I started. Luckily–because if I had known, I’m not sure I would have started.
My actions were taken by some of my colleagues as wild, daring, Super Bold. How dare I just decide to play a concert without having been asked to play a concert? And then, a message would slide into my inbox “hey Kate, could you teach me how to do that myself?”
I think Music Schools need to do a better job of preparing us for what happens after graduation. I know I’m not the first musician to say that, but it’s true. Students need to be taught how NOT to be students anymore; how to make their own decisions both musically and in terms of their career.
I’m going to go ahead and trust that Mrs. Barston wouldn’t scold me for my boldness this time. I’d like to think she’d be proud of me. As long as I’m doing the right bowings.
Years ago, when I was still living in Boston, I was living a double life. I was 100% cellist-performing recitals, playing with a few big orchestras and contemporary ensembles in town and teaching a roster of private students. I also had what was, on paper, a part-time, but in reality, a full-time job as director of strings, orchestra and chamber music, and an admissions officer at a prestigious private school outside of the city.
I loved it there. The faculty, the students, my office (oh, can we talk about my office? Because seriously, what musician has an office that large, with so many windows, a DOOR, and a coffee machine?)
It was a fairly straightforward job. Running the orchestras and the chamber music program I could pretty much do in my sleep, and the admissions work I found extremely enjoyable. Recruitment came naturally to me through my network of local teachers, and I loved interviewing families. The only challenge was having a limit to the number of incredible applicants we could admit.
As a classical musician, I had spent the previous 25 years in a constant state of intensity. Between the competition, rejections, practice hours, and constant need for betterment, the ease of my school job was a welcome respite. I could arrive in the morning, make myself a (free) coffee, chat with my lovely and unneurotic colleagues and do my work. The work took up time, but it wasn’t difficult. And I loved that.
But there was one morning I will never forget. One of the senior faculty members was retiring and the school was planning their retirement surprise (a school tradition). My colleague turned to me and said “oh, Your retirement is going to be so much fun!” and started tossing out ideas about bringing alums back to perform, etc. etc.
I say etc. etc. because honestly, shortly after she started talking about my retirement I felt myself having a mild panic attack. I felt short of breath, slightly dizzy, and like I needed to get outside and into some fresh air immediately.
It wasn’t the idea of retirement, per se. I’ve never ever been one of those people who wanted to “perform to the bitter end.” I like the idea of slowing down and spending days on end reading and sailing and gardening, without the pressure of practice or performing.
It was the idea that in 30 years, I might still be there, doing that job. The one that however much I loved it, was never going to be a catalyst for growth, and in my heart, was never going to be #1. It was always going to be my side hustle. It wasn’t fulfilling in that “My work is aligned with my soul’s purpose” kinda way. It wasn’t taking me where I wanted to go.
I had somehow gotten on the wrong train.
And if I was already heading in the wrong direction, where was that train going to end up 30 years from now? I was too afraid to find out. It was a great job, and it deserved to be held by someone whose soul’s purpose was to be doing THAT job. Someone who wanted to be on that train. As for me? Well, I needed to go find a different station.
So I did.
And now, a few years later, I am living what is pretty much my dream life here in Bermuda. I have pivoted away from certain jobs and leaned into others, shifted the balances of my performing (more solo and chamber music) and teaching (fewer, but more dedicated students) lives, and started working with other musicians and artists as a coach to help them pivot towards what they truly want to do.
I do work that not only matters to me (because working with my awesome students at that school mattered a lot!) but feels like work I was meant to do. Every day feels like a freaking gift (okay, maybe not those really damp, cold, rainy winter days) and I am so grateful that I made the change when I did, while I still had time.
So, how do I want my career to end? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. Life has a funny way of presenting opportunities and growth that I can’t even imagine right now. But I’d be happy if I was doing what I’m doing right now. I’d have no regrets, and that is a very good start.
What about you? Would you be content to continue doing what you do until you retire, or did you always assume you’d eventually do something else? Start your own home teaching studio? Record a few CDs? Start a music festival? If it’s the latter, why not start doing that “something else” right now? What are you waiting for?
Last week, we talked about figuring out the kind of location that best suits our individual nature and the idea that as classical musicians, we often just let inertia decide where we are going to live our lives. How we often end up either in the town we graduated in or leaped at the first orchestra or teaching job we won, without thinking about what kind of environment we would be putting ourselves in.
And while I DO feel (strongly) that musicians need to take back a little more control over their work circumstances and create the most amazing, true to themselves life they can, there ARE circumstances that call for us to go somewhere we might consider “less-than-ideal”.
A spouse gets offered their dream job, and it involves a big move, or you need to be closer to an ailing family member, or you yourself get offered a dream position, in a less than dreamy spot.
Enter a phrase that has always evoked a spirit of adventure for me:
Like a seed blowing in the wind, sometimes life just lands us somewhere we never would have expected (or asked for!). What then?
We’ve all seen people who complain constantly about how miserable they are, and how they are “stuck” somewhere because of external circumstances. And we’ve all seen people who found themselves in new places without friends or contacts and then, the next thing we know, they’ve started community programs, or a new chamber ensemble, or are winning a Nobel Peace Prize or something amazing.
There is something to be said for being resourceful, and figuring out how to find happiness and fulfillment anywhere. This isn’t a dress rehearsal, folks. So, wherever you are, it would behoove you figure it out as soon as possible and start living that best life.
If you aren’t currently living in your ideal place and you can move, then move. If you aren’t living in your ideal place, and you can’t move, then here are 10 things you can try doing to increase the joy. I thought of these in about 5 minutes and I’m sure you could add another 10 to the list if you wanted to.
I love to hear stories of people who moved somewhere unexpectedly and did incredible things. It doesn’t matter if it was due to inspiration or boredom. It’s the action that matters. So, if you ever had to move somewhere that you weren’t initially pleased about, and then figured out how to find a way to bloom there regardless, tell us all about it in the comments!
The question of where one prefers to live is as old as Aesop himself. The City mouse scoffs at the simplicity of Country Mouse’s life but the Country Mouse prefers the safety of his quiet life (rather than be attacked by dogs in the city). Somehow though, this question doesn’t seem to come into play in the music world. We musicians don’t always put much thought into where we are going. We go after the gig first, figure out our surroundings later.
When I was a fellow at the New World Symphony, I was surrounded by colleagues who dreamed of playing in a major orchestra and living in a major city. We were encouraged to take every audition that came up so that we could get more and more experience, and at virtually every audition, a NWS fellow would win.
Off they went to places like Nashville, Savannah, Naples, and San Diego. They were excited to be moving to “their first job”. You know, they one they’d have BEFORE they won their spot in New York, Chicago, Philly, or LA. Off to gain some experience and carry on auditioning.
And some of them DID eventually land a job in the city of their dreams. Others found that it was difficult to maintain their new full-time position AND continue to prepare for auditions, or get the time off needed to take the audition in the first place.
10+ years later, many of them are still in those places. They’ve fallen in love, settled in, made a life there. And some of them wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Others are miserable and wondering why they’re not in New York City like they planned. But on the other hand, some of my colleagues who landed jobs in New York are finding the energy blinding, too much, over-stimulating.
I myself left New World with only a couple of auditions under my belt. Deep down, I knew that I didn’t want to be an orchestral player, but I remember flying into Minneapolis for my first audition. It was April and it was snowing. Before my plane even landed I remember thinking “I do NOT want to be living in a place where an April snowstorm is considered normal”. Needless to say, I left Minneapolis without a job. But I also decided to leave NWS to head back to Boston, telling my boss that I’d rather be a struggling freelancer in a city I loved than have a steady job in a place I didn’t. He smiled and gave me his blessing and told me to call him when I needed rent money (lol).
This geographic misalignment is something I see time and time again in the music world. Yes, of course, there are musicians living in NYC who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. They thrive on the stimulation, the option of seeing one of 1000 different concerts any time of day, any day of the week. And there are those who landed a seat in a small town orchestra, or in a rural university town, who have found that the slower pace suits them perfectly.
But I have all to often run into colleagues who are in the wrong place (at least at the wrong time). The country mouse who stayed in a big city after college and is unhappily living a frantic freelance life, or a city mouse heading daily to an orchestra job that doesn’t fulfill them and leaves them wondering, day after day, how it is that they’re still there.
Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to choose the kind of place we wanted to live and shape our career around THAT, rather than the other way around?
What if we were encouraged in music school to consider what kind of environment makes us truly happy and feel most alive? Because that might make it clear that you’d prefer to freelance in Boston, or that you’d be living your best life in a craftsman style home in Kentucky.
I never would have guessed that the man I would fall in love with and marry would be living in Bermuda, but I will say that when I was principal cellist of the Key West Symphony, flying in from Boston 4-5 times a year for concerts, something felt “right”. I knew that I felt most at home and most creative in a quirky island environment. So to me, Bermuda made perfect sense. It was meant to be.
And as soon as I moved here, my career started falling into place in ways that I had previously struggled to make happen. I started playing the kinds of concerts I wanted to play, with the people I wanted to play with and opportunities started falling into place. I realized that all I really need is time to practice and access to an international airport. Bermuda gives me both.
What about you? Are you living in the right place? Are you living the right career? Or are you in a place that you landed in by default, with a career that you fell into by accident? How can you start to put things together in a way that makes sense for YOU?
There is something about the New Year that gets us excited about the idea of a fresh start. For us musicians, the fact that January is like a concert graveyard–especially compared to the craziness of the previous few months means that there’s no better time to reassess our goals and make some plans. And…because I am slightly obsessed with the topic, I thought it would be a great time to give our practice habits a little refresh as well!
Imagine this: You wake up in the morning and you can’t wait to get into your studio. It’s your safe haven, set up exactly how you want it, with easy access to the tools and resources you need. Your music is organized, and you have a great plan set out to tackle your musical goals for the year. You know what you need to work on, when you need to have it ready, and how you’re going to tackle it.
How is this magic going to occur? Are little unicorns going to arrive at your house and take care of it all? Nope! You’re going to do it. Well, WE’RE going to do it. Bit by bit, each day throughout the month of January.
Ladies and Gentlemen, students, colleagues, music aficionados, I introduce to you…
When you register (it’s all free, btw) via the link below, you’ll get one email a day sent to you first thing in the morning each Monday–Saturday during the month of January (starting on Monday, January 6th).
Each day will have an easy-to-achieve task for you to do. Some examples might be to deal with your pencil situation, or Windex and clean the mirror and windows in your practice room/space. The weekends will have slightly larger tasks like “organize your music collection” etc, with some tips and tricks to help you get it done. Some tasks will be focused on your space, and some will be focused on your own specific practice habits.
The idea is that each day’s task is too easy not to do, and will only take 10-20 minutes. Adding them all up through the entire month, however, will completely transform both your practice space and your practice habits. You’ll be on the right track for the rest of the year.
Besides, it’s going to be a blast to see the before and after photos that people post to Instagram! #januarypracticecure
For those of you who will be away on vacation at the beginning of January? not to worry! We’ll be kicking things off with the first email on Monday, January 6th, but there will be a handy pdf calendar with all of the tasks emailed to those who have registered. You can join us at any point in the month, and make up the tasks as you have time.
If you’ve been following the news in the classical music world, you’ve probably heard the laundry list of orchestras going on strike or facing lock-outs (Chicago Lyric, Chicago Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, etc.). Add to that the dwindling ticket sales and disappearing audiences, and you have a right mess. But in between the arguments circling around which side is to blame (the “costly musicians” or the “ineffective administration” there was an exciting (and much more productive) announcement that came out of San Francisco last week about the launch of the Center for Innovative Leadership at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music:
This new program will be dedicated to training people (from conservatory students to board members of established organizations) in the art of Arts Administration. The program aims to help heal the wounds, but also to talk about how the landscapes of audience development and retention are changing, and how arts organizations can better adapt.
Enter Arts Leadership Guru Aubrey Bergauer. A highly trained tuba player herself, Aubrey has made it her mission to change the way people run orchestras. She has an uncanny ability to see through the mess and figure out what needs changing (and what doesn’t!)
Straight off the heels of her announcement that she would be leaving her highly successful tenure as Executive Director of the California Symphony in order to make a bigger impact, comes the news that she will head up this initiative at the San Francisco Conservatory.
Her tagline is: Changing the Narrative. And she is doing that in some pretty impressive ways.
TFTL: What was your musical upbringing? Were your parents’ musicians? How did you get started?
AB: I remember my dad always playing records of all kinds of music, from Neil Young to Igor Stravinsky…I have memories of dancing around the living room as a kid to both America and Firebird! While dad is still a super audiophile, neither of my parents were musicians beyond their high school marching band.
I was interested in joining band too, and right before middle school, I went to sign up for what I thought was the coolest instrument ever: the saxophone. The band director took one look at me and said my mouth wasn’t right (translation: too many kids signed up for this already) and said I should go talk to the brass teacher. By the time I got to the brass table, I was nearly sobbing because all my dreams were crushed and my life was obviously over…and the brass teacher asked if I wanted to play the tuba. “Sure, whatever,” I said, choking back tears. Fast forward to learning to play, and I realized that I actually really liked playing the bass line. And I liked, even more, beating all the boys and breaking the stereotype of what a tuba player should look like—I was a little girl who had to sit on phone books to reach the mouthpiece!
TFTL: When and why did you decide to go into arts administration? How did you pivot from on-stage performing to the more behind-the-scenes work?
AB: Pretty quickly I became serious about playing my instrument, practicing a lot, and taking lessons, and the summer after 8th grade I won the audition to be the tuba player in the Houston Youth Symphony. Two years later, when I was a sophomore in high school, the orchestra went through an executive director change, and one day before rehearsal they introduced this new person to the group. That was the moment I realized that there was a job managing the orchestra, and I knew right then it was the job I wanted.
When applying for college, I decided it was important to pursue degrees in performance and in business. I would need both, I figured, to understand what’s required of the people making the music as well as what’s required of the people making the money to pay for it all.
TFTL: Did you always have a clear picture of what you wanted that career to look like?
AB: Yes, to a fault. The good part of that clear picture is that since age 16 I’ve wanted to run a major symphony orchestra and have been laser-focused on pursuing that goal. The trouble is that for part of that time, I think I had a narrow view of what the path “should” look like to get there (i.e. only working for orchestras or opera companies). Now I can say that every time I’ve taken a step that was outside of working in a traditional orchestra management role (i.e. when I worked for the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival or more recently when I left the California Symphony), it opened my eyes and grew me in a way that made me such a better leader and well-rounded contributor to the industry.
TFTL: By leaving the California Symphony and going into consulting, you are able to make a much larger impact. What would you say your main mission is? What legacy do you hope to leave to the classical music world?
AB: My mission is to change the narrative, meaning it’s ok to challenge the status quo when we’re not satisfied with it and question an existing paradigm in order to produce better results. For me, it’s not just strictly about classical music; rather, classical music is my chosen vehicle to change a lot of narratives, including championing social justice, gender equality, and inclusivity. And what’s so interesting and amazing to me about that is that through widening that lens (not being so narrowly focused as I said above), it has, in turn, led to accomplishments that really defy some of the negative trends of the industry.
Over the last two years, all of this really came into focus for me. Talk about clarity. I had been telling myself that *the path* in this industry was to go be executive director at a bigger orchestra. But as I was being approached for those jobs, something about it wasn’t sitting quite right; it didn’t feel like I was maximizing what I had to offer (i.e. do the same thing I had just done at the California Symphony). Simultaneously over that same time period, I was absolutely loving the calls I was getting for advice and for speaking engagements. It lifted me up whenever I was thinking about the big issues affecting the industry. Eventually last December this all started coming together in my head, and I decided I needed to move on from the California Symphony and do something making an impact beyond one organization (so going to do the same role at a bigger orchestra was not going to be the move).
When the announcement went out in June that this was the leap I was making, it was like the floodgates opened. So many people and non-profits of all budget sizes, across all artistic disciplines (as well as some non-arts organizations), in all corners of the U.S. and beyond, have reached out, including several top tier organizations which demonstrates that a lot of people in this industry are ready for change. In addition to the consulting work, the final piece of this next step is the work just announced with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, that I’ll be launching the Center for Innovative Leadership to train all facets of the arts management pipeline, from students to board members.
I hope my legacy is that I’ve helped to ignite this change that so many want and need. To show that we don’t have to accept a doom-and-gloom future for classical music; to acknowledge that it is a hard business, but there is a path forward if we are willing to adapt.
TFTL: I get a lot of requests from high school and conservatory students to give them a taste of what life in different career paths really looks like. What does that look like for you now?
AB: I love that you are getting those requests! A big purpose of the Center for Innovative Leadership is to help students understand the full spectrum of career options available to them. We need our talent off stage to match the talent on stage. Classical music needs more gifted musicians who choose to use their talents in an administrative capacity—a decision that’s not perceived as a back-up plan, or something they “fell into” later in life, but rather a proactive career pursuit that serves the art form just as well as exceptional playing.
This is where my own path and experience come full circle. Usually, when I tell someone I’ve wanted to run a major orchestra since I was 16 years old, they think it’s funny because nobody else really has that answer. But that’s kind of crazy when you think about it. People choose all kinds of professions in high school, and the arts need innovative, pioneering leaders just like science, or medicine, or public policy, or any other career. And of course not everyone cements their future in high school—that’s ok too—but opening up these jobs as options to be considered can be game-changing for our industry going forward.
TFTL: What do you think it takes to “make it” in today’s classical music world?
AB: Courage and vulnerability and resilience. I’ve been really into researcher and author Brené Brown this year, and she writes and talks about how courage and vulnerability go hand in hand. Orchestras need Brown’s breed of courageous leaders: our challenges are difficult and complex, it never gets cheaper to have 70, 80 or 90 people on stage performing at the highest levels, philanthropic trends have evolved, relationships with musicians are generally strained, and audiences (and how to market to them) have changed as well. These challenges call for bold leadership, not reactionary or same-as-before type solutions.
Simultaneously, as leaders, we have to be vulnerable because we don’t know all the answers, and we must let down walls if we are ever going to have better relationships with musicians so it’s not so us-versus-them all the time. We have some serious challenges that need to be addressed in our union contracts, and the only way all of us at the table will perceive ourselves as on the same team working towards the same goals instead of opposing sides is if we are all willing to get vulnerable. It’s scary, I know. That’s the point and why it takes courage. Similarly with the work on EDI (equity, diversity, inclusion) in this industry. It has to come from a place of vulnerability to say that I don’t know the best way forward but I acknowledge my white privilege and unintentional biases, as well as a place of courage to do the cognitive work to change that and embrace that we must figure out how to be more inclusive in our work on stage and off if we have any chance of relevance in the coming decades.
All of that is why we need resilience too. I think this is big stuff. I think we have to try and test new things. I think we have to be willing to have missteps (fine, failures) on a small scale as we are piloting different ideas. Resilience is how we work through that.
TFTL: There is often a lot of tension between the performing musicians and the management side of arts organizations. Especially during contract negotiations. What do you think are some of the common misperceptions happening on either/both sides?
AB: The biggest misconception is that there is a limited pie to go around and that we only need to be thinking about how to fund the art on stage. I think we often talk about how underpaid musicians are, but the reality is that administrative staff is usually underpaid as well. That’s a problem, especially in critical revenue-generating roles, because those are the positions in which we absolutely should be investing to attract and retain superstar talent so that we’re filling our concert halls and growing the donor base. Because when those things happen, the pie gets bigger for all of us. But instead what’s happening is we keep cutting or squeezing, and it’s a starvation cycle that is killing us.
The other big misconception in my mind is that we’re on opposing sides…and when we think there’s a limited pie to go around it absolutely sets it up that way. This goes back to needing vulnerability from all of us to say that we also have things to talk about besides money that are going to have a big effect on the work we do—streaming and media in particular. If we’re looking at it through the lens of who concedes and who wins instead of “how do we make this better for all of us,” we will never get to the agreements we all need and want.
TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician? What about now? As someone who is “busting through the norms”, do you find it difficult to find mentors?
AB: David Kirk (principal tuba in Houston), who ended being my teacher at Rice, but I first met him that first year I started playing…probably still sitting on phone books. I think he is a student of all music not just the tuba, and he teaches that way too. Also Sam Pilafian—loved that jazzy tuba playing (filled that saxophone void perhaps?!). Today in the field it’s Deborah Borda. And I really love looking outside classical music for role models.
I think it’s very difficult to find mentors. Mentorship is not as hardwired into our industry as it is in other for-profit industries. I’ve tried to always read everything I can and think through how I would approach or handle any given situation I’m reading about. There’s a lot of information and advice out there in absence of tons of mentorship opportunities.
TFTL: What is your favorite thing about attending a classical music concert these days?
AB: Always the music. That’s what we do best and have done best for centuries.
TFTL: What 5 things are always in your carry-on when you’re traveling?
My Kindle, laptop, phone, charger, and CHAPSTICK (seriously, chapstick is on me at all times…so addicted)
TFTL: Where can people find you? (website, IG, FB, Twitter, etc.) and what is the best way for people to show their support for what you are doing?
@aubreybergauer on all channels (Twitter, IG, LinkedIn, YouTube, Medium blog, and my “Changing the Narrative” Facebook page)
I also have a website: www.aubreybergauer.com
The artists and musicians I know fall into one of two camps. They either have a strict daily routine for when they are going to practice, teach, eat and do admin work, or they just go with the flow and do whatever they are inspired to do at that moment. Each group will swear by their method, but I’m here to tell you that the 2nd group might benefit from learning a few things from the first.
As Daniel Pink writes about in his latest book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” Every one of us has our own unique daily rhythm, and that means that we have a consistent period of the day when we are able to get our most focused work done. For me, that is between 8am and 1pm. For someone else? That might be from 8pm-1am! The trick, you see, is to figure out what that peak time is for you, and then plan on getting your most important work done then.
On a normal day (ie anything other than a travel or a performance day) I know that I need to exercise, practice, do some admin work, write, teach, social media managing, and eat lunch and dinner. If I were to prioritize them in order of how much focus and energy I need to complete each task, I would list them like this:
Some of these things schedule themselves. I mean, I can’t eat both of my meals at the end of the day. I get hungry in the middle of the day, so lunch goes there. And teaching? Well, other than homeschool and college students, those lessons need to be taught outside of school hours, which means between 3:30-7:30pm. As for the rest of it?
I generally prioritize my practicing over writing because I am more a cellist than I am a writer, so practicing gets my peak focus period, which is roughly from 9-12. Exercise happens earlier in the morning before I am fully awake enough to understand what I’m doing. After that, I have some coffee and knock out some emails and a bit of social media stuff, and then start practicing at 9. By then, I am awake, alert, and focused. After lunch, I knock out the rest of that day’s admin tasks, and then I teach. To see it another way:
Of all of the decisions I have to make each day–from which Bach Suite I should program on a recital to which flight I book, to what I make for dinner–when I am going to practice is NOT one I need to make. Like Steve Jobs and his iconic black turtleneck. The more decisions we can eliminate from our daily lives, the less stress we have.
Before I had this routine set, I would have to have the same daily argument and motivational pep-talk to get myself to practice as I had when I was 12. “I need to practice” battling it out with “I’m not in the mood to practice”.
Guess what. A secret of being an adult, professional musician? Very rarely is ANYONE “in the mood to practice”. That’s not a thing. Practicing is just something that you have to do in order to play the good stuff, and more often than not, it can be a somewhat enjoyable experience.
I do it at 9am. There is no point in arguing with myself about it.
My phone doesn’t light up much between 9 and 12. The people who know me, know that I’m practicing, and they don’t bother me. When someone asks me to do something between those hours, and it’s something that could be scheduled for another time, I simply tell them I’m not available. They don’t need to know that I’m in my house, in my pajamas, playing Brahms, they just need to pick another time.
I have a couple of good friends here, and between traveling, kids, and long work hours, it has long been made very clear that the only time we can all get together is for breakfast on a Monday morning. We don’t do it often, but every couple of months, it’s scheduled.
Because I have a clear sense of the rest of my schedule, I know ahead of time that I’m losing out on an hour of my practicing that day. Depending on what I have coming up, I might just practice until 1pm that day and have a later lunch and a bit less time for admin stuff or I might just say—eh, that’s cool. I’m good. But I probably won’t schedule a breakfast date when I ALSO have some sort of mandatory event happening on another morning that week.
So, on one hand, I’m all for saying “not today” but my routine makes sure I’m not saying that day after day after day.
Concert travel just makes life messy. It’s just a fact. But by sticking to a routine when I’m at home, it’s like I’ve put money in the bank, and during travel weeks, the money is there to cover the withdrawals.
Sticking to whatever part of my routine I can when I’m traveling does help a lot in terms of stress-reduction. If I have a morning off, and I get up and go for a run, have some coffee and then practice? Or if I have a morning rehearsal and then some afternoon time free, I might try to find a café and do some admin work.
That rhythm feels so familiar to me. It’s comforting, and it helps to make sure I’m not returning home to 500 unanswered emails.
I used to worry that my gravitational pull towards having a routine meant that I was somehow less creative, less of a musician than my flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants peers. That in order to be a truly great artist, you had to stay up all night working, sleep until noon, have a messy house and an even messier head (because, obviously, you were so engrossed in whatever musical endeavor you in the midst of…)
Now we know that that is utter B.S. The day of the “tortured artist” has passed. Most of those “tortured artists” never got around to writing that great book they had inside them, or they were getting slammed by critics because they weren’t practicing enough and their playing slipped. Some of them (the ones who were successful) actually DID have a routine. Even in his legendary cloud of chaos, Beethoven had a fairly strict morning routine and was known to count out exactly 60 coffee beans for his morning coffee!
Science has shown us why. Your innate level of creativity isn’t about your schedule, but by scheduling your day around your body’s natural biological rhythm, you can use your peak hours of focus and energy to enhance your level of creative output.
This post was written as a guest blog post for Honesty Pill . Check out what they are doing over there and grab some more fantastic insight into practicing habits, mindset, and audition prep!
It’s always easy to practice a piece that is brand new to us. After all, everything needs to be figured out–the notes, rhythm, dynamics, tempo, etc. Likewise, when we have a performance looming in the (very!) near future, it’s easy to focus on and tackle anything that is still not feeling 100% comfortable.
But what about those in-between times? When your task at hand is to “make it better”. I’ve heard from a lot of new coaching clients and colleagues that they sometimes find it hard to know what to do to continue to improve. “Make it Better” is a little vague. I mean, we all know what needs to be better, right? Intonation, phrasing, sound, breath control, all of the things, but how do we go about fixing “it all”?
What I find to be missing from a lot of people’s practice sessions (and what was definitely missing from mine when I was growing up) is the habit of setting a clear intention of what, and I mean exactly what, one is about to work on.
It needs to go beyond, “I’m going to work on this 16th-note passage”, and get narrowed down to a point of “I’m going to feel the articulation of my fingers through this 16th-note passage” or “I’m going to work on speed and build up from 88-104 on the metronome today”.
Yes. That Specific. How many times have you told yourself you were going to “work on” a particular passage, only to find yourself heading towards the final few bars of the piece a few minutes later? Oops! or mindlessly repeating a measure 25x. How much better is the passage? You have no idea. Maybe it’s a little better? Maybe not?
There is a saying in the business world: “What gets measured, gets managed”, and it rings true for practicing as well. Practicing with a clear intention allows you to measure your success in that small, clear way. If your intention is to clean up intonation, and that’s what you work on for 30 minutes, you can tell at the end of your session if you’re playing more in tune.
Setting an intention keeps you focused, and it gives you clear, tangible evidence of improvement. Did you manage to get the passage up to q=104? Great! that’s a clear improvement from yesterday when you couldn’t play it at 96. If you were only able to get it to 100, then you know where to start next time. And you can still walk away knowing that you made some improvement in the speed.
There are days when I’m just not feeling it. Maybe it’s the day after a big performance and I want to give myself a little break. On those days, I’ll pull out a new-to-me piece that I have been wanting to take a look at, and my intention will be “I’m going to try to play through this piece from beginning to end and see how well I can read it”. Or I might take an old piece that is not currently on my performance repertoire list and my intention will be “I am going to play through this piece and really listen into my sound production”. While there is no immediate pressure to improve anything, I’m still staying focused and still managing to get something positive out of the practice session. Anything less is just a waste of time.
Every intention I set makes my practicing feel completely different so I never get bored practicing the same pieces month after month. One day, my intention will be set around my vibrato, so I’m thinking a lot about how the phrase direction calls for different speeds and ranges of motion in my vibrato. The next day, I might set my intention around bow angles, so my focus in on my right hand now, instead of my left. It almost feels like a different piece. By switching up my intentions each day, I’m seeing it all from different perspectives, leaving no stone unturned.
Without Intention, you’re wasting a lot of time in the practice room. Time spent mindlessly playing through a whole piece (badly). Time spent repeating a passage without even stopping to figure out what needs adjustment, and time spent wondering where the last few hours went, and whether they made any difference.
I can guarantee that when you start adding in this tool, you’ll be blown away by the results. Your practicing will feel more efficient, more focused, and more productive. You’ll start out knowing exactly what you want to get done, and you’ll pack up feeling more accomplished and further ahead than before.
We all know that practicing is a neverending pursuit. There is no such thing as “perfect” nor is there such a thing as “done”. It is both the source of a musician’s pain and the whole reason we fell in love with music in the first place. The quest for beauty, expression and the physical rush of that perfectly executed passage keeps us going day after day. Use intentions to keep your work focused and measurable and you’ll soon find that your results are more successful.
Action Item: At the start of your next practice session, choose a passage that has been giving you some trouble, and make a quick video of you playing it. Decide what progress you would like to make on it that day and then set a clear, doable intention. At the end of your session, make another video of the same passage, and take note of your progress. You can also take note of something else in the passage you would like to work on and make that your next intention.
Today’s Spotlight is shining on Violinist, Teacher, Blogger, Podcaster, and all-around guru of mindful musical work, Renée-Paule Gauthier.
Currently based in Chicago, Dr. Renée-Paule Gauthier performs with all the top bands in town: Lyric Opera, Joffrey Ballet, the Chicago Philharmonic and is a regular sub with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
She is the String Area Coordinator, Co-director of the Chamber Music Program, and Violin Instructor at North Park University, and is also part of the faculties of North Central College, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, and the Birch Creek Performance Center, as a violin instructor and chamber music coach.
Her dissertation, The Mind First and Foremost: An Exploration of Mindful Practice Techniques and Strategies for Violinists, explores how cutting-edge research on mindfulness and personal growth can help violinists in the practice room. She is currently at work turning this dissertation into a book.
She blogs about creating a meaningful practice at her website, Mind Over Finger, hosts the Mind Over Finger Podcast and travels throughout the United States giving masterclasses and clinics on the topics of mindful practice, audition preparation, and anxiety management.
And when she’s not doing all of THAT? She’s also a wife and mother. I asked her how she started down this path, what her life looks like as a top-tier freelancer in a major cultural mecca like Chicago, and how she manages to get it all done.
Find out how she starts each day, what she finds difficult about practicing and her magical way of listening to a performance.
TFTL: At what age did you start playing the violin?
RPG: 7 years old
TFTL: Were you naturally drawn to it, or was it something that someone suggested you try?
RPG: My parents were both musicians, and so was my older sister, so I think you could say that it was very much encouraged! 😉
TFTL: When/How/Why did you decide to start a podcast?
Living in a big city (Chicago) where I spend an insane amount of time in my car commuting, I consume a lot (!!!) of podcasts on all kinds of topics! There were a few very good classical music podcasts already, but I had not found one that talked specifically about my favorite topic – mindful and efficient practice – and I always had several questions in my head that I dreamed to ask the guests. In November 2017, I was driving back from a conference where I had just given a talk about mindful practicing techniques. As always, I was listening to a podcast and kept running additional questions in my head. Then, this voice just popped in my head and said: “You should launch your own podcast!” At first, I thought it was a crazy idea but, once the spark was ignited, I couldn’t shake it. The first episode of The Mind Over Finger Podcast came out on September 7, 2018, featuring violinist James Ehnes, and it’s been an incredible ride!
TFTL: Was it outside your comfort zone or something you had some familiarity with already?
RPG: It MOST DEFINITELY was out of my comfort zone!!! And it felt really scary! But, it also felt exciting and the calling and desire to push forward were really strong. The voice in my head kept talking about it, and I just decided to listen to it and take small actions, every day, to see if I could actually make it happen. They say that courage and confidence come from action – that’s what I tried. Another important thing is: I asked for help!!! Jason Heath, who has an AMAZING podcast – Contrabass Conversation – was always generous with his time, advice, and encouragement, and he was instrumental in bringing The Mind Over Podcast to life! It’s a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, and it’s an endless well of inspiration for me. It also brings me an incredible amount of joy when I receive emails or comments from someone telling me that it brings value to their life!
TFTL: I get a lot of requests from high school and conservatory students to give them a taste of what different career paths really look like. What does a typical month of work look like for you?
RPG: Ha! There is no typical month for me! It’s always a juggling act, and I keep things organized by planning everything carefully ahead of time – from gigs to administrative work, to family activities, to meals. I wear many hats! As a performing musician who also teaches, runs a chamber music program, hosts a podcast, and has a family, I need to find time to practice the repertoire I perform, answer tons of emails, create content in time for releases, prepare material for my students, and handle all of the logistical details to make all of this happen. My family is also a big priority, so I make sure to plan quality time with my kids and husband and make sure everyone gets to their classes, sports practice, and scout meetings.
TFTL: Did you always have a clear picture of what you wanted your career to look like?
RPG: Not really. I’m really happy with where I am and what my life looks like, but if I could pass on one piece of advice to young musicians, it would be to get very specific with what they want – the kind of music they want to play, with whom they want to play, what kind of setting they want to play in (orchestra? chamber music? shows? solo? creation?), where they want to live, and the lifestyle they aspire to. This could make a tremendous difference in how focused they are in their work and the decisions they take when thinking about the future.
TFTL: What were some of the obstacles that you faced in your path towards becoming a professional musician?
RPG: Obstacles can be both external and internal. I faced them both throughout my life and, as most of us, will face more as time goes! I would say the following about obstacles: always accept the external obstacles as a part of life and an opportunity to grow and/or change direction, and face internal obstacles with humility and self-compassion, and thrive to get better, stronger, and more loving to others and, especially, yourself!
TFTL: What do you think it takes to “make it” in today’s classical music world?
RPG: This is a very difficult question! I think you need a LOT of dedication and focused work, and also a bit of luck. Of course, you want to always be prepared when opportunities come knocking, so focus on the process and try to be consistent and meticulous in your work.
TFTL: Practicing: Love it or Hate it? What do you find is the most challenging aspect of it?
RPG: Love and hate! What is most difficult I think is that the work is never done. I try to make it more enjoyable by getting creative with my practice drills and finding different ways of working on things.
TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician?
RPG: My biggest role model as a young musician was my first violin teacher, Jean-Francois Rivest. If you catch his interview on the podcast (episode #25), you’ll understand why! His love of music and the enthusiasm he exudes made me the musician I am today.
TFTL: Do you have a morning ritual or routine to get you going each day? Can you share some of it with us?
RPG: Well, ALWAYS coffee first! Because of my ever-changing schedule I don’t have a set routine but, whenever possible, this is what I aspire to on days I don’t have a morning rehearsal: after the kids leave for school, a bit of tidying up because a tidy house makes me feel better, then meditation and gratitude practice for 10-20 minutes, and day planning where I look at all the things I have to do and organize my day (although the bulk of the planning is done on Sunday nights on my Google calendar). If there’s time, I love to also squeeze in a run or a workout.
TFTL: What is your favorite thing about attending (not performing in) a classical music concert these days?
RPG: The joy of feeling like a child again and enjoying music. I almost never listen to concerts with a critical mind – I sit back and try to savor the gift that the musicians are offering to me.
TFTL: If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?
RPG: This is going to sound tacky but I would say Mozart hands down! There are so many anecdotes and stories about him – I would be eager to see the man behind the legend and pick his brain about everything I could! I would also love to see his face when I make him listen to some Brahms, Shostakovich, Debussy, or Ligeti and hear what he thinks!
TFTL: What 5 things are always in your carry-on when you’re traveling?
RPG: My phone (to listen to podcasts), my phone charger (😊), an extra sweater, a book (usually about something related to mindfulness or self-growth), and gum!
TFTL: Where can people find you, and what is the best way for people to show their support for the awesome work you are doing?
You can find me at www.mindoverfinger.com, or as mindoverfinger on both Instagram and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/mindoverfinger/ and https://www.instagram.com/mindoverfinger/). Mostly, I hope people tune in to The Mind Over Finger Podcast and reach out to me with questions, comments, and suggestions! You can download it on all podcasting platforms, including Spotify, or stream it on my site!