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!
In a recent post, I talked about using podcasts as an incentive to exercising, and I received more messages and comments asking me which podcasts I listen to than about anything else! So, here are ten that I have been listening to pretty regularly. It’s a mix of classical music-specific pods, creative entrepreneurship shows, and general life inspiration shows (because who doesn’t need a little of that these days?).
I’ve also enjoyed being a guest on a few podcasts recently. One is listed below, and the other was just released yesterday on the Thrive Podcast. You can have a listen to that one here. The host, Olga Müller, is a life coach in Germany and wanted to talk to me about career pivots and moving things in the direction of your dream life. It’s always fun to see a classical music career through the lens of a non-musician!
Do you have a favorite podcast that TFTL readers might want to know about? I’d love to hear about them, too. Tell us about them in the comments. Happy listening!
Tracy Friedlander is the host of this great interview-based pod. Her guests are all people who are “Redefining a Thriving Classical Music Career”. Folks who have started their own ensembles, publicists, performers, and administrators. Anyone who is breaking some sort of mold.
Or my episode where I blah blah blah about a few things cello-related.
This is another musician-based podcast and also done with interviews. Renée-Paule Gauthier has talked to performers like Arnaud Sussman, Joshua Roman, and Tessa Lark about practice and performance techniques. Last year she did a fantastic series from the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition in Indiana.
Stay tuned for an upcoming TFTL Spotlight Interview with Renée-Paule!
With host Jonathan Fields. Guests include today’s most sought after writers and thought-leaders. From CEOs of billion-dollar companies to philosophers and athletes, each guest brings a fascinating perspective on the idea of how to “Live a Good Life”.
If you’ve been hanging around TFTL for a while, you probably know my obsession with Gretchen Rubin and her books. Several of my posts, like my “30-Day Focus Project” and my “Teaching according to the Four Tendencies” have been inspired by her research and books. This podcast is her and her sister talking about life hacks, little things to make your life “a little happier” and hilarious stories about their day-to-day lives.
You know what we are not taught in Music School? What to do with money. How to get it, what to do with it once we have it, and how to figure out retirement. Several of my colleagues have admitted that they have NO retirement savings and just plan on teaching and playing until the end—not necessarily because they want to, but because they don’t have any other choice.
Host Jean Chatzky, who many of us know from her work with the Today Show, has made it her mission to educate women on the basics of personal finance. From explaining the difference between a Roth and a SEP IRA to what the heck an index fund even IS, and how to balance saving for retirement and funding your child’s education, this podcast should be required study material for every music student.
This one is new to me. LA Phil violinists Nathan Cole and his wife, Akiko Tarumoto riff on the ins and outs of being orchestral musicians. Topics have included audition prep, dealing with injuries, and taking listener questions. They have great banter and it’s like peering into the daily life of orchestral musicians.
Noa Kageyama trained with performance coach extraordinaire, Don Greene while he was at the New World Symphony. I know DG is extraordinary because I was lucky enough to have been one of his first groups of guinea pigs at NWS when he was starting to build on his research on classical musicians and write his first book. The stuff WORKS. Noa’s voice is so soft and calm and low, that it sometimes makes me a little bit sleepy. This isn’t one to listen to if you’re trying to get a power walk in at the same time—you might find yourself strolling along at a snail’s pace, BUT the information he puts out is great. He combines music-related research with his own work in the field of sports psychology and the result is concrete ideas you can take into the practice room and onto the stage.
The host of DKYDJ is Cathy Heller, a singer-songwriter who went to LA with dreams of making it as the next Brittney Spears. She ended up losing her record deal. Turns out her too-mellow-for-rock-arenas sound was perfect for TV and Movies and she started finding huge success in licensing her music. She started her podcast to help fellow creatives find their niche, and build their lives around their passions. Her advice can get a little sappy at times, but there are too many nuggets of good, tactical advice to stop listening.
Oh, Oprah. I never thought I would be a big Oprah fan, but I’ve got to hand it to her. She can get ANYONE in the world to be a guest, and she gets some good ones. Michael Jordan, Byron Katie, Wes Moore, Deepak Chopra and Eckart Tolle. It’s like a weekly dose of inspiration.
Whatever the Bulletproof Musician lacks in vocal energy, Brendon Burchard is at the opposite end of the spectrum. I sometimes wonder if he just downs red bull by the bucketful, but he’s too healthy for that. I think he’s just really passionate about his work. His main focus is High Performance. (He wrote the High-Performance Habits, which I LOVED). He doesn’t do interviews but takes a topic like productivity, motivation, or social media marketing and riffs on it for a while. He’s got great ideas and leaves you with both things to do and things to think about.
Whenever I come back from being on the road, I feel a bit disoriented. My dirty clothes are stuffed in a suitcase, I’m staring at everything in my house like I’ve never seen it before, and there is a pile of mail staring me down. Even my cats are looking at me funny.
I’ve been out of my routine, between the early am flights and the late-night concert receptions, both my body and my brain feel…just….off.
I started noticing that one of the first things I would do upon getting home was water my houseplants, and I would be annoyed if I found that my husband had done it recently enough that they didn’t need watering.
It wouldn’t be long before I found myself heading over to the garden shop to buy some new flowers or vegetable seedlings for the gardens. Surely, doing the laundry, sorting through mail and giving my cats a few extra snuggles was more pressing, but I couldn’t help myself. I needed to stick my hands into some dirt. NOW.
It occurred to me that spending time with my plants helped me to feel grounded (no pun intended—well, okay, maybe it was a little intended). But seriously. It was the one activity that made me feel like I was back on home turf. After all, my plants are only at home. I can’t garden while I’m on the road. It had this magical way of catapulting me back into my sense of routine.
It was then that I realized that gardening was an important hobby of mine. And I also realized how important it was to HAVE a hobby. I desperately cling to that activity as a calming force in my life. In fact, it’s a lot easier for me to get back into my routine after a disruption, if I have that one calming activity to get me settled first.
I’m not going to win any awards for my landscaping designs, and half of my vegetable plants get eaten by pests before I get to harvest anything, but that doesn’t matter. I just love puttering around in there. It makes me happy. I don’t have to be good at it, but when it works, and I find that half of that night’s dinner came from the garden? Well, that’s an awesome feeling.
Hobbies are awesome. With our music careers, we are expected to be great. Always. Mistakes are not always forgiven, so we are under extreme pressure to never make them. Hobbies are different. With a hobby, mistakes are allowed. No pressure. We get all the fun of our successes without any of the consequences of our failures. And that is a very healthy feeling.
They act as a sacred barrier between the never-ending quest for perfection in our music-making, and the acknowledgment of our imperfect humanness. I can’t go straight from a performance one night, to the practice room the next morning to try to improve it more without first hitting a re-set button on my brain. Gardening does that for me.
I did an informal poll amongst some of my colleagues and found that the ones who are generally happy and calm all have hobbies. There are knitters, cooks, wine aficionados, cyclists, hikers, birders, etc. and of my colleagues who are the most stressed out? You got it–No hobby.
And for some reason, there is this weird stigma that as classical musicians, we’re supposed to be “So Incredibly Dedicated to Our Craft That We Would Never Dream of Spending a Single Second Doing Something Else” but I’m here to call B.S. As Sarah Kenner, of @thehungrymusician (I seriously drool over her food photos) was talking about on her Instagram Stories the other day, that is ridiculous. Having a passion outside of our professional craft is not only not detrimental to our success, it adds to it in so many ways.
So do yourself and your playing a favor. Get a houseplant, go fishing, bake some bread, learn how to knit, anything at all. You’ll be so happy you did.
Today is Labor Day, our modern-day signal that summer is over and we all have to get back to work. Whether you spent the last three months studying or playing at various festivals and camps? Or maybe you took some time off to travel, see family, or enrich your life in some non-musical way (I am SO all for that, by the way!)? However you spent this past summer, the prospect of getting back to a routine can seem daunting and overwhelming. Here are a few tips that might help you get back into your practice groove in time for that first performance, studio class, or concerto competition.
I believe very strongly in transitioning between one thing and another and wrote about having a whole Transition Week here. When I’m getting back into practice mode after some time away, I usually spend at least a day or two just playing. That’s right. Not practicing anything, just playing. Favorite pieces I could play in my sleep? A new concerto I want to learn this year? All six Bach Suites–just for fun? It’s hard to leave the beach vacation behind and immediately be excited about scales. Start by getting excited about your instrument, and begin the routine by spending a certain amount of time with your instrument each day. If that means just serenading yourself for a couple of days, that’s wonderful.
What repertoire are you responsible for between now and Jan 1st? After a couple of days of getting all of that “playing for fun” out of your system, it’ll be time to face reality. Open up your calendar app, or your planner (I use these and have the entire year up on the wall of my studio/office). And start planning out your year. For pros, this will mean rehearsals and performances, grant deadlines, important dates for your students (like when you’ll need to have extra time to write all of those letters of recommendation) and for students, you want to write in all of the deadlines for concerto competitions, seating auditions, studio classes, and chamber music and orchestra concerts. In other words, when do you need to have things prepared by? Knowing this in advance will be extremely helpful in avoiding the dreaded “practice cram” one week before a pre-screening festival audition video is due.
Are you a morning practicer, an evening practicer, or a late-night practicer? I am and have always been an early morning practice person. When I was at NEC, I would practice early in the morning AND late at night, but the morning session was always more productive for me. The late-night sessions were more about wanting to be where my late-night practicing friends were! Even if you’re a student and you can’t get a full 3 hours in before school, you could probably manage to do 1 hour then, right? Take advantage of your body’s natural energy patterns, and do your best work then. If you’re better at night, then get into the habit of getting everything else done earlier in the afternoon and evening, so that when the time comes, you’re free to practice.
Yep. You got it. Scales, Arpeggios, Octaves, Etudes. The part that gets rusty after a leisurely summer isn’t our sense of musicality! It’s our muscles. Like an athlete coming out of the off-season, it’s all about the warm-ups and the skill-work. Don’t underestimate how quickly a good technical routine can whip you into shape.
There is no rush right now. Work for a few minutes and take some time to do a few stretches. Start with your scales (for god’s sake—start with your scales!) and think of it as a morning yoga routine for your fingers and your cello. Set the timer on your phone for 5 minutes, and for the first week, practice 15 minutes, and take a 5-minute break. You can increase your playing time by 5 minutes each day after that.
Have a coach you can work with? Someone to keep you honest? Or friends who are in the same boat? Text each other to compare notes and keep each other going. Or, commit to an Instagram challenge. Post a different section of your concerto each day. Trust me, people will nag you if you skip a day!
This is a well-known habit enforcer. Pick something that brings you joy. It could be a vanilla soy latte or a certain kind of chocolate or listening to a favorite podcast. Decide that you can only do that thing after you’ve practiced. I love podcasts, and I have a long list of ones that I listen to every week, but I’m only allowed to listen to them while I’m exercising. So, voila. I exercise more because I want to listen to my podcasts. It can be a video game, watching youtube videos, reading a favorite book, etc. whatever works for you.
You knew I’d get to this one sooner or later. If you don’t have any big, exciting goals for yourself, then WHY would you choose to lock yourself away for hours every day and play scales and drill passages over and over. But if you are determined to get into a certain school/camp/festival, make a certain orchestra, win a job, ace that graduation or Doctoral Recital, win a competition, whatever it is. Make a sign. Write it out and tape it where you can see it every time you practice. Turn it into a graphic and make it the wallpaper on your phone. See it and read it multiple times a day. It will give you a reason to get into the practice room. Reasons give us purpose, and Purpose keeps us motivated.
Happy Practicing! (Don’t forget those scales 😉
Summer is here! (YESSS) If you’re off to learn/teach/perform at a summer festival or two, then you’re certainly in for a busy and inspiring 8 weeks. But what if you’re not? Whether it’s due to financial considerations or because life is just requiring you to stay close to home this summer, all is not lost! You can definitely turn the next 2 months into your most productive summer ever. Here are 10 things you can do this summer that will have you facing September 1st feeling like a boss.
With a hectic concert schedule during the year, it’s almost impossible to learn new repertoire other than stealing a few minutes here and there from your practice sessions. You’ll often hear of soloists walking off stage from playing their concerto and heading to their dressing room to practice next week’s rep while the orchestra plays the 2nd half of the program! Summer is the perfect time to work on pieces you want to add to next year’s repertoire list and brush up on some etudes and show pieces. If you have tried this before and found yourself procrastinating week after week, maybe you need some additional accountability built in. You can form an online practice group with some friends or work with a practice coach, don’t let your need for outward accountability stand in your way this time.
Want to go through all 40 Popper Etudes this summer? Or spend a week on each Piatti? You can read more about my thoughts on the benefits of Etudes here, but summer is a great time to geek out on them, and having a looming deadline will help you get your instrument out of its case every day.
Contact your local library, retirement communities, or even a nearby prison and offer to play a program. September is still pretty light in terms of concert schedules, and what a great feeling it will be to start the year off with a performance of your new repertoire under your belt, rather than that nagging feeling of being out of playing shape!
Grab your calendar and write down everything you did last season. Add it in, or swap things out as you see fit. Is your font outdated? Does the style match your personality? Is your contact information correct? September often brings about auditions for local ensembles, and sub lists, and for you high school seniors, your dreaded College Applications. Get your materials in order while you have the time this summer and you’ll be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Whether you hire a professional, or have a friend do them, summer is a great time to get a couple of new photos that you can use professionally. The summer blooms and lush greenery make for fantastic outdoor backgrounds, and the golden hour light in the summer is A+.
Some people like to do it by composer, others, by genre (Concerti, Sonatas, Solo works, etc) and there are some weirdos out there who do it by publisher…..what? Yep. I’ve seen it with my very own eyes. But whatever your method, take stock of what you have, see if anything needs some TLC. Get a stamp with your name and email/website on it and make sure your name is on everything. I’ll give you bonus points if you take it it all to a stationary shop and laminate the covers.
A properly set up practice space can give you a boost of motivation, a fresh perspective on things, and can make your life easier. Make sure you have the following:
Send a DM to someone you went to summer camp with. Email a former teacher or chamber music coach and let them know how your year went and what you’ve been up to. Trust me, they’d LOVE to hear from you (hint hint)! Call a colleague you haven’t seen in a while and make plans to meet up for a coffee or lunch. Summer is a great time to catch up with people. Schedules are more relaxed and people have more time to meet up. And you never know, you could end up brainstorming a fun project together for the upcoming season.
I know the feeling. If you finally have a day off from performing and teaching, the last thing you want to do is go to ANOTHER concert. But it is vital that we rally our energy and do it anyway. Summer concerts especially are fun, low-key, inspiring, and you’ll likely run into a bunch of people you haven’t seen in a while and it’ll turn into a big party. Make some chicken salad, grab a big blanket and some bug spray and get out there.
Do some summer things! Make a list of things that mean summer to you, and plan them into your days. Here’s mine:
The ends of the concert season and school year are approaching and (thankfully!) bringing along the slower pace of the summer. Even if we have a full schedule of festivals and concerts, there is a bit more free time between June and September. It’s the perfect time to catch up on reading, and a great time to reach for a something that will keep you musically inspired through the summer months. I’ve put together a list of my top-10 favorite books for musicians. These are the books I would most recommend to colleagues AND students alike.
The following books have taught me about music making and life making alike, have given me insight into composers and performers I have long admired and given me fresh perspective on what it is I do, and why it is I do it. It is, to be sure, an incomplete list–I wanted to limit it to my top 10, but please feel free to add your favorites to the comments.
P.S. Any of these would make a great graduation or post-recital gift for your favorite high-school musician.
1. Casals and the Art of Interpretation by David Blum: The thoughts and wisdom of this musical giant should be read by every musician–no matter their instrument.
2. Beethoven, by Maynard Solomon: An in-depth look into Beethoven’s life and the world in which he lived. You’ll never believe how much chocolate this man consumed on a daily basis.
3. Testimony, the Memoirs of Dmitry Shostakovich: No one should attempt to play this man’s music without reading this book first. An insight into his soul, and the stories behind the music.
4. Joys and Sorrows, by Pablo Casals: This one is more autobiographical than philosophical. You’ll learn important details of the political landscape (and minefield) of his time, and how they affected his career, and the careers of his contemporaries.
5. The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece by Eric Siblin: A charming and fascinating look at the Biography of J.S. Bach through the lens of his six suites for solo cello and the man who made them famous.
6. The Rest is Noise, by Alex Ross: (from his website) “The narrative goes from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. The end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.”
7. High Performance Habits, by Brendon Burchard: Burchard spent years researching the top performers in a wide range of fields-athletes, musicians, business, writers, artists, and statesmen, and came away with the six habits they all had in common. He also found that these habits are accessible to us all.
8. Beyond Talent by Angela Myles Beeching: This books is like a warm hug and a gentle nudge for musicians embarking on a career. She combines great advice everything from networking to branding with words of wisdom regarding balance and keeping stress to a minimum.
9. The Savvy Musician, by David Cutler: More great career advice. Cutler goes into the nitty-gritty of making recordings, setting up concerts and gettin’ S&*^ done.
10. The Artists Way, by Julia Cameron: This is a book that I recommend to everyone-even people who just want to get back in touch with their creative sides to help them in their non-artistic careers. Cameron lays out 12 months of journaling and exercises to help you figure out what the heck it is you actually want and how to go out and get it.