The Musician’s Life: How I transition between my various professional roles (without losing my mind!)

As career musicians, very few of us only have ONE job.  We perform. And teach. And coach. And have some sort of administrative role. Then of course, one might also have a marriage or a relationship to maintain. Children to raise? Parents to care for? The list can go on and on.  Most of us have, by shear necessity, figured out how to keep track of all of the different rehearsals and concerts and teaching schedules we have. I mean, it’s a complete and utter miracle that we all manage to show up in the right place at the right time, on the right day, and with the right music, right?  It’s NUTS.  But recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of talk in various chat groups, podcasts and musician’s facebook groups about the stress of balancing it all and figuring out how to do it all without getting completely overwhelmed.  I want to share a few tips that I have learned along the way on how best to handle having various professional roles without getting stressed out, and they all sort of center around two key ideas:

Transition Time + Setting An Intention

I was in a rehearsal one day and I was feeling really stressed and jumpy (and I hadn’t even had THAT much coffee!) it occurred to me that the rehearsal itself wasn’t all that stressful.  It was great music that I knew well, I was surrounded by friends, the conductor was being nice; Everything was going well. The stress I was feeling was from the traffic that I had had to deal with on the way TO the rehearsal, the worry that I wouldn’t find a parking space, having to turn back to my car once it was parked because I had forgotten to grab my music stand, and standing behind a VERY indecisive person at the coffee shop who couldn’t decide what kind of tea she wanted. (tick tock).  I made it to rehearsal in plenty of time.  My worry was for nothing, but for some reason I kept the stress of the previous hour inside me and I was holding onto it for dear life.

Some wise words from Brendon Burchard, author of High-Performance Habits popped into my head. What was my intention in that rehearsal? well, I wanted to play well, stay focused on the music and my colleagues, and be a positive and enjoyable presence in the room (we’ve all had to deal with rehearsing with Grumpy McGrumpster, right?  NOT fun).  Focusing on the experience that I wanted to have, I was able to transition myself out of the bad traffic, the elusive parking spot, forgotten stand and the slow-to-decide tea drinker and into a positive rehearsal experience, and I had so much more fun. I think I also probably played better and was most certainly a better colleague.

This transition/intention combo has been so helpful to me, and I swear, I use it probably 4-5 times a day now.  Here is a breakdown of how and when I use it.

 

1. When I am finishing up my coffee/breakfast/news/writing time and about to head into the practice room.

I let go of whatever I just read in the news, or whatever I was writing about, and I think about what I want to accomplish with my practicing.  Maybe I want to work on memorizing a particular section, or drill some fast passages, or maybe I am close to a performance and I want to practice doing a few run-throughs.  I do this BEFORE I walk into my studio by the way, so that as soon as I walk into the room, I’m already in practicing mode, and I can just sit down and get right to some focused work.

 

2. When I finish practicing and am about to start diving into some computer work.

Same thing.  I let go of whatever was frustrating me in the practice room-that dumb shift that still isn’t totally solid, that section that is refusing to get memorized, etc. and I set a clear intention for what I want to do that afternoon.  Write a new blog post? Answer some interview questions? Email some presenters? Whatever it is, I make sure I am totally clear on the 2 or 3 most important tasks that need to get done that day and THEN, and only then, will I sit down at my desk, or wherever I’m working that day.

3. Before I start teaching.

My days are completely up and down from one to the next (like everyone’s!) but it’s important to me that my students get me at my best at every lesson.  So whether I have had a frustrating day or a totally kick-ass awesome day, when I walk into my teaching studio, I am “Kate The Teacher”. Ideally, I want to be caring, encouraging, patient, kind, and I want to have the energy to help my students reach a higher level at each and every lesson.  So I actually set an alarm on my phone for 10 minutes before my first student each day (another idea learned from Brendon Burchard) and I set the text to read off those very qualities.  When my alarm goes off and  I look at my phone it says “Be a Caring, Encouraging, Patient and Kind Teacher” and no matter what was going on in the earlier part of my day, that intention is re-set, and it puts me into the right frame of mind to (hopefully) best serve my students.

4. When I get home at the end of the day.

My husband is a teacher, and he likes to workout out before school, so most days, he’s out the door around 6:15am.  That gets me up then as well, and after my own morning routine and usually an early am practice coaching session, I do my own practicing for a few hours, and then I do a few hours of admin work, and then I teach for a few hours.  I love what I do, but at the end of a long day, I can feel TIRED.  And even though I might head home giddy and excited to see my husband and finally be able to relax for the rest of the evening, when I’m tired, I’m more inclined to snap easily (sorry, babe!)

So, every night when I get home, I sit in my car for a couple of minutes, and I think about what kind of evening I want to have. It might be “okay, I know we both have a lot of work to do tonight, and I have to do some practice coaching later, so I’ll just heat up some leftovers for us, and I won’t get annoyed that he doesn’t clean up the kitchen, because I know he’s facing a tight deadline.” Or it might be “okay, I’m looking forward to having a nice mellow evening.  I’ll go in, turn on spotify, and pour us each a nice glass of wine, and maybe we can cook some dinner together, and I won’t dive into how frustrated I am that this person hasn’t gotten back to me about that concert date, or nag him about the stuff he has left lying around the house, and we’ll just laugh and watch something fun on Netflix”.  It’s a game-changer.  I end up being the kind of partner I want to be, rather than accidentally slipping into tired, nagging, not-very-fun-to-be-around wife, and my evenings end up being much more pleasant!

Transition + Intention is the way to go.  Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!  When else in your day would you use it?  What are your toughest transition moments?  Leave a comment below and share your struggles and your wins! Students, this would be great for you as well, going from school to practice to home to rehearsal, etc.

cheers!

Kate

Ten Things I Wish I Had Known About Auditions When I Was a Kid

The following is a post from last May that seemed to help a lot of folks who were gearing up for auditions.  As we enter a new season of festival and youth orchestra auditions, I thought I would post it again.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and any other bits of advice you might have!  Please share them in the comments!  Cheers–Kate

Audition season is just around the corner.  In fact, I am flying to Boston on Friday to do 10 days of cello auditions for one of the youth orchestras there.  All around the country, young musicians are gearing up to audition for various ensembles and getting their audition video materials ready for last-minute summer festival admission.  I remember those days well, and I mostly remember that I did not have a clue what was being asked of me, how these things worked, or how I needed to prepare.  So I thought I would compile a list of things I wish I had known back when I was the one in the hot seat.

1. The judges want you to play your best.

We really, truly do.  We are 100% on your side.  If we sense that you are nervous, we might make small talk with you or crack some jokes to try to put you at ease.  We are NOT trying to trip you up, we are NOT testing you, and we are NOT sitting there counting your mistakes.  We are always looking for the good in your playing, so you should focus on that too.

2. It is far better to play an “old” piece really well, than to play a “new” piece that hasn’t settled.

When I was growing up, my teacher had a clear progression.  Suzuki books–Haydn C Major Concerto–Boccherini–Saint Saens–Kabelevsky–Lalo–Rococo–Elgar–Shostakovich–Dvorak–Prokofief.  So I thought that playing a scrappy Saint-Saens was better than playing a solid Boccherini, because the Saint-Saens meant I was more advanced, and therefore, a better player.  That is ridiculous.  Saint-Saens didn’t sit down looking at the Boccherini score, and set out to write a piece “a bit more difficult”.  So, while it might seem like a momentary disappointment to play a piece that you thought you had “retired”, it will serve you better to audition with a piece that you are comfortable with and will allow you to focus on the musicality, rather than “omg, I hope I make this shift!”.

3. You’re not being asked for scales for the sake of the scales.

I don’t know what fingering your teacher taught you and I don’t care if you accidentally used a 4 instead of a 1.  I want to see that you have a fluid bow arm and can make a gorgeous, full, rich sound on your instrument.  And no, you do NOT win extra points for playing your scale as fast as you can.  That tells me that you are impatient and that you don’t care about your sound, and that you really want this audition to be over as soon as possible :-).

4. Dynamics will get you far.

Insta-musicality.  The death of any performance (and particularly an audition performance!) is to be boring.  Dynamic contrasts will help create different colors and will create shape and interest in your playing.  Dynamics are your friends.  See #6 below for more on this.

5. Figure out the essence of each excerpt/piece and really go for that.

It is fairly standard practice to ask for “two contrasting pieces” in an audition.  And those contrasts are usually going to be fast/slow, baroque/romantic, etc.  Figure out what makes each piece.  Is it a slow, lyrical piece?  Then go for sustained sound, smooth bow changes and long phrasing.  is it a rustic peasant dance?  Then really go for that kind of character in your articulations and dynamics.

baby and piano

6. Sight-reading: it’s not a speed test.  it’s a “can you follow instructions” test.

I was raised to not ever keep people waiting, so whenever I was handed that dreaded sheet of sight-reading, I would try to dive in immediately, so as not to waste my judges time with my petty “thinking”.  Oh, poor little me.  Don’t be like that. We judges are testing whether you can look at a bunch of black dots and foreign words and translate them into music.  It would behoove you to take a moment and look through the entire thing.  take note of the key, meter, clef, how high and low it is going to go, and locate and count out any tricky rhythms.  Bonus points for actually playing the dynamics as well! You want to have an idea of how it goes before you play a single note. Take your time.  I have, a few times, had to tell an auditionee that they had taken long enough, and we needed them to start playing, but I have NEVER faulted them for it.  If anything, they have shown that they care, and that they want to play it well.

7. Dressing up helps

I have seen auditionees come in wearing their pajamas.  We want you to be comfortable, but also, have a little respect. Even if you are going to be behind a screen, dress as if you are going to a job interview.  Because essentially you are. More importantly, when you are dressed for a performance, you focus for a performance.  It really does help you play better.

8. Be friendly, but don’t lose your focus.

I have always been a pretty outgoing person, and I never wanted to be perceived as being a diva.  So, if I was in a warm-up room, I would find myself chatting it up with the staff, the other auditionees, parents, ANYONE.  The problem was not in my friendliness, nor did I really need another 5 minutes of practicing, but I would walk into my audition, and I would be in social mode, not in cello mode, and I would find myself making silly mistakes because I was distracted.  In hindsight, it would have been far better for me to just smile, say hello, and then sit in a corner going over my pieces slowly–just to stay in the right mind frame.

9. Practice playing something from memory in front of people (or your dog).  take note of where your eyes go.

Do you practice in front of a mirror? (like you should!).  I do too.  But then you show up to a performance or an audition, and not only is the mirror not there, but instead of a mirror, there are judges.  It’s amazing how different it feels to go from playing something and seeing the mirror image straight ahead of you, to suddenly looking DOWN at your hands.  Everything is in a different place!  So I would be sure to practice your piece a few times without a mirror and with people in front of you.  Figure out where you want your eyes to focus on (sometimes I just close my eyes) and start getting accustomed to how it feels.

10. The results are totally out of your control (and often out of our control too).

Sometimes, there are tons of kids graduating, or moving up, or have moved away, etc. and for whatever reason, there are PLENTY of spots for all of the people who audition.  Sometimes that is NOT the case, and the competition is stiffer that year.  A person can play the EXACT SAME AUDITION, and have completely different results based on random factors that have nothing to do with their abilities.  This is where life lessons come in.  Sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised, and sometimes in life, you will be disappointed.  I promise you, you’ll get over it, life will go on, and give you more pleasant surprises.  All you can do is play your best; and if you use your audition date as a practice goal, and learn as much as you possibly can from every moment of the process so that the next one can be even better?  Well, then you’ve come out ahead in so many ways, no matter what the result is.

If you are taking an audition this spring, best of luck to you!  Keep the above information in mind and let me know how it all goes!  If you’re auditioning for me, please know that I am so excited to hear you play, and I hope that you have a really great experience.  Colleagues, what other tips/advice would you add to this list? Have any of you readers had any particularly amusing audition experiences?

keep calm

Spotlight Series: Elena Urioste

Ahhhh. Another Monday.  Have I told you how much I love Mondays? No? Because I REALLY love Mondays.  I see a future post coming…

Today, however,  we are shining our spotlight on yet another kickass female who is disrupting our little classical music world in an awesome and much-needed way.  Elena Urioste is a concert violinist, one half of the duo behind Intermission Sessions & Retreat, and the founding director of the Chamber Music by the Sea festival.   When she isn’t off performing concertos, recitals and chamber music concerts around the globe, she is running week-long yoga retreats for professional musicians in France and Vermont, and providing yoga workshops for students at music schools and festivals.

This November, 2019 She will embark on a U.K./European tour as soloist with the Chineke! Orchestra performing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto in G minor, and also has solo debuts with the Malaysia Philharmonic and Minnesota orchestras. The Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective will embark on some exciting residencies at the Cheltenham Music Festival, the Wigmore Hall (beginning February 2020), and at her own festival, Chamber Music by the Sea, and she and her Intermissions partner, Melissa will offer their Sessions at the Cheltenham Music Festival, Interlochen Arts Academy, and the Heifetz International Music Institute throughout the 2019 season.

Her latest Recording, Estrellita, a collection of miniatures for violin and piano with Tom Poster, was released this autumn on BIS Records. You can hear it here.

Today, Elena gives us the lowdown on how her life and her entire perspective on being a musician has changed since she discovered yoga, the  tremendous value of vulnerability in what we do, and her morbid fascination with murderous composers! Continue reading

5 Ways a Summer Music Festival Will Change Your Life

It’s cold and gray in Boston this third week in January, but I’ve got July and August on my mind.  That’s right–it’s time to get serious about summer music camps and festivals.  Deadlines are looming and you’re probably getting bombarded with social media posts from every music camp and festival out there.  From 2-week long day camps to 8-week long orchestral institutes, the options can be overwhelming, and what kind of festival to attend is going to be between you and your teacher (and your budget).  But what they all have in common, is the tremendous amount of growth you will achieve by attending one.  Over the years, I have fielded two main questions from parent after parent: “Is going to a summer music camp really so important?”  and “Can’t they just practice at home and get the same result”.  The answers are: 1) YES and 2) NO.  Here are the 5 ways attending a summer music festival will change your life:

1).  Forced Practice Time. 

All music camps, whether they are a “practice camp” like Meadowmount or Bowdoin, or an “orchestra camp” like BUTI or Aspen, have forced practice time built into the schedule.  When I was in middle and high school, I attended the Encore School for Strings and the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival, and at both, and we were basically locked in our rooms from 8-12 each morning.  Afternoons were reserved for chamber music rehearsals, coachings, lessons, and master classes.  I was a serious musician at that point already, and that was still a lot of practicing for me.  3-4 hours a day, every day, for 6 weeks?  The thing is, all of my friends were doing the same thing.  It’s not like I could have been hanging out with people instead.  There is great power in numbers, and peer pressure can be a positive as well as a negative.  Each summer, I learned a full concerto, a sonata, and some Bach-not to mention the chamber music.  They say you do about 6 months of work in 6 weeks at a music camp, and it’s no lie.  You can have the best of intentions, but I guarantee, if left to your own devices, you are probably not going to practice 3-4 hours every morning, for 6 weeks straight on your own.

2) Chamber Music. 

I’m not biased because I run a chamber music program.  I run a chamber music program because I believe that playing chamber music teaches you how to interact with other human beings in the world.  It makes you a better person.  It teaches you negotiating skills, diplomacy and empathy.  And you will most likely be learning these things from great teachers and players who learned them from the previous generations great players and teachers and that personal history is not something that can be learned from reading a book.  Whether it is your first chamber group, or you are a seasoned veteran, chamber music will raise your level of musicianship like nothing else.

3) You will make lifelong friendships

My (non-musician) husband is blown away by the tight-knit community of classical musicians.  “How do you all know each other?” he used to ask.  The answer? “Music Festivals”.  He kept hearing me say “oh, we went to Tanglewood together” or “oh, I know him from Bowdoin” and now, with younger professionals, it’s “Oh, I taught him at Killington” or “I coached her quartet at BUTI”.  The world of classical music might seem enormous to you now, but trust me, it’s a lot smaller than you think.  And the people that you might spend your summer with this year, could be your colleagues in 10 years.  Many of them will be amongst your closest friends.

4) You get to know potential college teachers and get the “inside scoop” on various conservatories and music schools. 

Applying to music school can overwhelming, aside from wanting to like the environment, the city (or countryside–hello, Eastman! hehe) negotiating scholarship and financial aid, we need to find a teacher who is going to be the right fit.  This often means traveling to the school twice!  Once, to meet the teacher and have a lesson, and then a 2nd time when you have your audition.  It gets expensive (especially for cellists) and time consuming.  no one has THAT many free weekends.  But if you went to a couple of different music festivals, and got to work with a few different teachers over a few summers?  You’re ahead of the game.  And working with a teacher for a few weeks tells you a lot more than having one random lesson the fall of your senior year, when you’re having random lessons with 8 different teachers in the span of a few months.  Summer festivals are a definite must for anyone going this route.

(FYI, there is a fabulous new camp called the Conservatory Audition Workshop, which offers incredible coaching on taking conservatory auditions as well as master classes and discussions with faculty from many of the top conservatories.  They have generously offered to waive the application fee for any of my subscribers!   Just mention that you are a Tales From The Lane subscriber and they will waive your fee!) 

 

5) You get to spend 24/7 with people who “get” you.  

When I was in high school, I had my “music friends” who I spent my Saturdays with at the Music Center, and I had my school friends, who were, for the most part, an awesome group of creative, interesting, and ambitious non-musicians.  We had as many differences as we had similarities, and sometimes, they just didn’t get me.  They would get upset if I had to miss their sweet 16 party because I had “music stuff” that day, or-just as awkwardly, they wouldn’t bother inviting me to a party because they knew I had a competition the next morning.  I wouldn’t have been able to go, but my feelings were still hurt at not being a part of things sometimes. At summer camps, however, the “parties” were getting a bunch of chairs and stands together and reading chamber music in the dorm lobby until 12 or 1am.  If we were lucky, the “older kids” would show up and play, and if we were REALLY lucky, some of the faculty would join in.  We all knew what it was like to sacrifice a normal high school social life to do music, and it wasn’t a big deal.  We ALL wanted to listen to recordings together and decide who played the best Tchaikovsky violin concerto.  We were all classical music geeks and we were all in heaven.

As you can see, attending a music festival should be considered mandatory for any serious high school musician who is considering going into music for a career, but they are also incredibly inspiring places for ANYONE who is studying music–regardless of their career path.  Most, if not all, have financial aid available, and the investment is worth it a thousand times over.  Below, you’ll find a (partial!) list of various options to check out.  Don’t delay—audition deadlines are coming up quickly!  If you know of a great festival that I haven’t listed, please add it in the comments.  There is a great place for everyone.

Boston-area day camps:

Winchester Community Music School Summer Music Festival

New England Conservatory of Music 

South Shore Conservatory

Chamber Music Camps:

Point Counter Point

Greenwood

Bowdoin Summer Music Festival

Castleman Quartet Program

Killington Music Festival

Orchestra Festivals:

New England Music Camp

Chloe Trevor Music Academy

Texas Music Festival (college, some advanced high schoolers)

Boston University Tanglewood Institute (high school and now they have a program for middle schoolers as well)

Aspen Music Festival (mostly college, but some advanced high school)

National Youth Orchestra (ages 16-19)

National Orchestral Institute (college and grad)

Tanglewood Music Festival (college and grad)

Other:

Sphinx Performance Academy

Meadowmount

Heifetz International Music Institute

Conservatory Audition Training (BONUS:  Tales From The Lane Subscribers get their application fee WAIVED!) . 

 

 

 

 

A Reading List to Get Your New Year Off Right

Welcome, 2019!

Well, folks, we made it!  It’s January 1st, and I’m curled up in my PJ’s on my sofa in Boston reflecting on some of the better moments of 2018 (Florida! Charleston! Seattle!) and gearing up for 2019. We spent the Holidays in England visiting P’s family, so there were lots of dinners, hugs (and cheese) and tons of catching up with everyone.  But unfortunately, my phone completely died on Christmas day, so I have zero photos!  It was a forced break from social media, and it allowed me to realize what I did and did NOT miss about that whole scene.  (more on that in another post!)  I’ll have my new phone tomorrow, and will be back to posting and being in touch with you all via comments and DM’s.  Hands DOWN, the best part of being a blogger is the ability to meet and interact with people who I wouldn’t otherwise have crossed paths with.

Bringing Back the Reading Lists!

I have tons a great content planned for you all, including some bigger posts coming this month-giving you the lowdown on summer festivals, another one on taking auditions, and loads of advice on how to get ready for both!   As for me, I’m starting off 2019 by bringing back my reading lists from a couple of years ago.  Some of you might remember that I would choose 4 books a month–one from each of 4 pre-determined categories.  In year’s past, I would pick one book at a time and wouldn’t start a new one until I had finished the first.  But we’re not always in the mood for a particular kind of book, are we?  Sometimes I want to escape into a bit of fiction, other days I’m looking for something more grounded.  Different moods call for different books, right? And since I need to finish them all in the same 4-week period, I don’t let them just sit there lingering on my nightstand.  This year’s categories are : music, fiction, auto-biography and business/personal development.  At the end of 2019, I will (hopefully) have read 12 books on Music, 12 Auto-biographies of inspiring people, 12 books on business and personal development and 12 novels.  That’s not too shabby!  I’m always open to suggestions for future lists, and love it when you guys follow along with my lists–we’ve had some great discussions here!   But please feel free to make your own categories (and share them with us in the comments!)  For the month of January I have picked:

Drumroll, please…….

1. Music: The Power of Music by Elena Mannes

2. Fiction: Persuasion, by Jane Austin (because P and I spent a couple of days in Bath over the weekend, and I need to relive those scenes ASAP).

3. Auto-biography: Becoming by Michelle Obama (who else is reading this now? I’m on page 2 and it’s SO good!)

4. Business/PD: The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy

Spotlight: Caroline Shaw

Caroline Shaw is a New York-based musician—vocalist, violinist, composer, and producer—who performs in solo and collaborative projects. She was the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for Partita for 8 Voices, written for the Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth, of which she is a member. Recent commissions include new works for Renée Fleming with Inon Barnatan, Dawn Upshaw with Sō Percussion and Gil Kalish, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s with John Lithgow, the Dover Quartet, TENET, The Crossing, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, the Calidore Quartet, Brooklyn Rider, the Baltimore Symphony, and Roomful of Teeth with A Far Cry. The 2018-19 season will see premieres by pianist Jonathan Biss with the Seattle Symphony, Anne Sofie von Otter with Philharmonia Baroque, the LA Philharmonic, and Juilliard 415. Caroline’s film scores include Erica Fae’s To Keep the Light and Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline as well as the upcoming short 8th Year of the Emergency by Maureen Towey. She has produced for Kanye West (The Life of Pablo; Ye) and Nas (NASIR), and has contributed to records by The National, and by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. Once she got to sing in three part harmony with Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds at the Kennedy Center, and that was pretty much the bees’ knees and elbows. Caroline has studied at Rice, Yale, and Princeton, currently teaches at NYU, and is a Creative Associate at the Juilliard School. She has held residencies at Dumbarton Oaks, the Banff Centre, Music on Main, and the Vail Dance Festival. Caroline loves the color yellow, otters, Beethoven opus 74, Mozart opera, Kinhaven, the smell of rosemary, and the sound of a janky mandolin.

Needless to say, she is pretty bad-ass.  I performed her duo for viola and cello Limestone and Felt last month and just fell in love with her music.  Not only is Caroline Shaw a freaking genius, she’s also REALLY nice, and super funny.  In this Spotlight, she talks about life as a multi-hyphonated artist, her biggest disappointment, her love of Shake Shack, and the dangerous consequences  playing piano trios can have on a teenage soul.   

TFTL: What is the best part about your career?

CAS: Getting to make something new that never existed in that particular form before, often alongside friends and colleagues whose curiosity inspires me every day.

TFTL: Are you more comfortable with a daily routine, or the freedom of an open schedule? Are you disciplined in how you work, or do you prefer to follow your mood and creative flow?

CAS: I crave a daily routine sometimes, but it’s rare. And I think that I really love the freedom of an open schedule. It’s a thrilling challenge, and I’ve always enjoyed a blank piece of paper much more than one with lines. Deadlines often generate the discipline needed to finish a project, and I’m grateful for them. Creative flow is hugely important as well, and I think that that kind of mood and flow can only come out of intense work and discipline. Freedom in rules, in various permutations.

TFTL: As a violinist, a vocalist, and a composer, how do you balance your different “lives”?

CAS: The different roles definitely feed each other, and I like the different kinds of work that they require.

TFTL: When you finished Yale and went on to get your PhD in composition, did you feel like you were moving away from being “a violinist”? Was that a choice between the two, or an expansion of your existing life?

CAS: It definitely felt like an expansion of things that I was already doing. I’ll always be a violinist; it’s just one part of being a musician, for me.

CAS: My mother, a violin teacher and singer and music organizer. My violin teacher, Joanne Bath. The organist at my church, who was also a composer (Janette Fishell). My youth orchestra directors, Glenna Theurer and John O’Brien. Anyone who I ever saw perform, or who coached any group that I played with. Too many to name.

TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician?

TFTL: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?

CAS: I never quite knew what being a “professional musician” was (and maybe I still don’t), but I definitely felt something kick in when I was about 15 and played a piano trio by Clara Schumann. It felt like a kind of fire was lit underneath me, and I got really serious!.

TFTL: What do you think has been the most exciting moment in your career so far?

CAS: Ha. That’s a tough question. But the first thing that popped into my head was the feeling of singing “Passacaglia” with Roomful of Teeth, at our very first concert ever, in 2009 at Mass MoCA. There was a wonderful energy in the room then that feeds me still.

TFTL: What has been the most disappointing? How did you recover from it?

CAS: I worked for a long time on a piece called Ritornello, for which I wrote the music and made a film. I could tell in the performance that it wasn’t going well, and that I should have spent more time editing the music and definitely editing the video. I got some bad reviews (both in person and in print), but I am thankful for that honesty. It made me realize that it takes a long time to make something as deep and important as I wanted that piece to be, and as I still want that piece to be. I still think about it and work on it from time to time, and it’s an important lesson that I keep with me.

TFTL: What is your favorite thing about going to a classical music concert these days?

CAS: When something honest and beautiful happens. Could be in the performance. Could be in the music itself. I love being moved by a particular harmonic shift, maybe one that was written hundreds of years ago. Harmony is so effing great.

TFTL: If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?

CAS: I would really like to go to Shake Shack with Gesualdo.

TFTL: Quickies: Tea or Coffee? NYC or Maine? Summer or Winter? Morning bird or Night owl?

CAS: Coffee. Maine. SUMMER, R U KIDDING. Night owl.

TFTL: where can people find you? 

CAS: ig: carolineadelaideshaw
twitter: caroshawmusic

TFTL: What can we look forward to seeing next from you?

CAS: A new album of my string quartets with the Attacca Quartet is coming out in February, on Nonesuch/New Amsterdam.

Thank you SO much, Caroline! 

Wanna hear how great her music is? 

I just received this holiday “ecard” from the Attaca Quartet with a little BTS video of their recording sessions with Caroline.  

Here’s a video of Roomful of Teeth performing her Partita.

You can get the whole sha-bang here.

 

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! 

Everyone seems to be in full-on holiday mode now.  Our tree is up, cards are arriving from friends and family (I do love a holiday card, don’t you?) and the annual Christmas Concert in Bermuda, Joy to the World is happening over this weekend.  That’s where you’ll find me.  Otherwise, I’ll be sending off the last of the gifts, doing some shopping and spending a little extra time at the gym to counteract last night’s Eggnog social! What about you?  Do you have a favorite holiday tradition or are you counting the seconds until it’s all over?  Either way, here are a few entertaining Friday Favorites for your reading and shopping pleasure this weekend!

Have you heard of The Melodica Men?  They are hilarious.  Here they are, playing The Nutcracker

If you have company coming for the holidays and need to spruce the place up a little bit, Target is having a Big 25% off Home Sale.  Use the code GIFT.

They have great artwork by Kate Pugsley

Help your guests keep warm with these pretty color block throws.

And these carafes are great, whether you’re serving hot cider at a party, or morning coffee for a houseful of guests.  

Remember Festivus?  Do you celebrate?  

this commercial still gets me every time I watch it.  The life-changing effects of giving a child the gift of music lessons. 

I have recently discovered the perfection of the jumpsuit as replacement for the concert gown.  They are easy, comfortable, flattering on all body types, and you won’t be worried about tripping over any dress hems while walking on stage (one of my biggest nightmares).  Here are a few good ones:

by Jonathan Simkai, Trina Turk, Solace London, and Hallston

Check out this guide to hanging out in Providence, RI during the holidays from fellow blogger Jess Kirby’s site. 

Some very good news! Violinist Rachel Barton Pine is launching a major new project dedicated to highlighting and promoting music by Black composers, including an 8-volume series of sheet music books for violin (with similar books for other instruments in the plans).  This has been a lifelong passion of Rachel’s for most of her life, and I’m so happy to see this come to fruition! Check out this article about it all from Strings Magazine.

For my Boston readers: Here is THE concert listing site for the city.  Do you have “attend a holiday concert” on your bucket list, but can’t afford the pricey Pops ticket, and your pink tutu is at the dry cleaners?  There are literally dozens and dozens of fantastic concerts happening around the city over the next few weeks.

ICYMI: Some posts from the past couple of weeks:

Finding Our Tribe as Classical Musicians

Gift Guide for the person who HATES the cold: or a “how to survive winter” guide.

How to Balance Practicing & Homework

Spotlight Series: Tracy Friedlander

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheers! and have a great weekend, everyone!  

-Kate

 

Finding Our Tribe as Classical Musicians

I feel like every time I turn around, someone is talking about “finding your tribe”, and offering how-tos, advice and new podcasts.  There are 10 new books out on Amazon this week with the word “Tribe” in the title.  So, what, exactly, is this tribe and why do we classical musicians need to find it so desperately?

It’s not terribly complicated, actually. Your tribe is the group of people you spend most of your time with.  They could be your office co-workers, or teammates, or, if you’re running a business, your tribe might be your customer base—the people you want to reach out to and communicate to-the people who are interested in what you offer.  But as a regular person, your tribe is simply your group of close friends.  Your besties. Your community. Your squad. Those people that you consider family–even though you’re not actually related to (thank god!).  But here’s the thing.  Finding our tribe as classical musicians is something I think we are pretty bad at in general, and I think we suffer a lot for it.

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We grow up spending way too much time alone in a practice room.  In fact, unlike on a sports team, if your friends are in the room with you when you’re honing your craft, you’re doing it wrong. I was lucky that growing up, I had a group of close friends who were all classical musicians.  We were all good, we were all serious, and we all needed to practice.  We’d call each other on practice breaks (and boy, was it ever exciting when they came out with 3-way calling!) or meet over at our community music center after school and steal rooms to practice in. We were close, we were supportive, but we were also ultra-competitive.  I once won a competition and a couple of my closest, dearest friends said the most HORRIBLE things about me and how I clearly didn’t deserve to win.  They said these things loudly and publicly and here I am, almost 3 decades later, unable to forget that harsh, unexpected sting of betrayal.  I think I had some major trust issues with my friendships for years after that, and really, those past relationships still haven’t completely healed. 

These days, the idea of building a strong, supportive community of people is a priority for me.  I strive for it in my personal life with my own close friendships, and it’s the cornerstone of this blog–a place to share ideas, advice, successes and failures with a larger community of people–from the high school students hoping to get into a certain summer festival to the seasoned professionals who find themselves spending too many hours alone on airplanes and hotel rooms. We’re all in this together, folks.

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The truth is, being a musician means that we are vulnerable.  We put ourselves out there on a daily basis, and that is scary as hell.  And while, in order to improve and grow, we need a fairly steady stream of critical feedback, we also need people in our lives who we can depend on to be our cheerleaders no matter what.  Even if they were on the other side of that win.

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These days, I am lucky enough to have an incredible group of friends.  Several of them live spread out around the US, and even though I only get to see them maybe once a year or so, we always just pick up where we left off. I have a super close-knit group who are all in Boston (shout out to my laydeez!), and I get to see them whenever I’m in town.  We know what is going on in each other’s lives.  We go to each other’s concerts whenever we can, or at least try to send a “good luck!” text.  I’ll admit, we could be better.  We could have each other’s backs a little more.  But I think that we’re all just so accustomed to doing our own thing.  Our success as musicians has always depended upon our own private work–done alone–in a practice room.  We were all raised to be a bunch of competitive loners pitting ourselves against each other.  But I’ve learned over the years that a colleague’s success does not mean I will be less successful.  It’s not a zero-sum game here, folks. 

So let’s step it up a little bit, shall we? Think about your closest friends.  Musicians? Writers? Accountants? Whatever they do, treat their successes as if  they were your successes and celebrate wildly with them.  Make their goals your goals and help them get what they need.  Hopefully, when it’s your turn, they will return the favor.

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Welcome to the tribe!

Kate

Gift Guide for the person who HATES the cold: or a “how to survive winter” guide.

I grew up in Chicago, and then I moved to Boston, where I spent the majority of my adult years before moving to Bermuda.  I hated winter.  Passionately.  I didn’t like being cold, and I was ALWAYS cold.  One year it occurred to me that I wasn’t really doing it right, and I was spending 1/3 of every year being cranky and miserable.  I learned to love the traditions of winter–rewarding myself with a hot chocolate when I went to dig out the car, investing in a good down coat and some other cold-winter gear, and trying to take a cue from mother nature and slow down a bit.  It worked. I actually started to look forward to winter’s arrival (though, let’s be honest here, I also promptly found myself a boyfriend who lived in Bermuda).  Anyway….. here are a few of my favorites.  I hope that you all have a wonderful season full of warm bowls of steaming soup, roaring fires and toasty knitwear.  Now go pour yourself a cup of cinnamon tea, curl up in this and read on.

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Books to inspire you to hunker down and get your cozy on:

Cookbooks: On Baking Bread, from Molly Yeh (she went to Juilliard, ya know!), or some Vegetarian Comfort Food

Hygge Books: On basic winter-survival, family traditions, or finally learn how to knit

And to help dream of sunnier weather:

Gardening books , India Hicks’s Island House is amazing! or just to plan a trip.

These lights are supposed to really help with those winter blues!

I suppose the most obvious thing would be for them to travel to a warmer climate!  Target just came out with a new travel collection that I am kind of obsessed with right now.  The suitcases are great, but the packable backpack is perfect for when you’re traveling for a concert and you need to wear your instrument on your back, BUT, you know you’re going to want to take advantage of a nice day hike while you’re there?

But the best way to get through a cold and brutal winter is to embrace it and arm yourself accordingly.

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Shearling slippers are a must.  The ultimate in coziness.

Crawling into a bed made up with flannel sheets is the BEST when it’s cold out!  Some simple ones, a more seasonal set, or these super festive ones (for you or the kiddos).

If I had this hat, I would spend my entire days frolicking in the snow.  Of course, if I could afford that hat, I’d be in Fiji. these earmuffs are a bit more reasonable!

Keep your hands and toes warm–for skiing, winter hikes, or just the daily commute.

Go snowshoeing and then warm up with some hot cocoa!

When I was living in Boston I slipped on ice and broke things (hand, finger, wrist) 3 times in 6 years.  Then I got some Yaktrax, and now I give them to everyone I care about.  Game.Changer.

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How to Balance Practicing & Homework

Advice for the High School Musician on Getting it All Done When You’re Being Pulled in Two Directions. 

I see you.  Every morning, between your 7:10am chamber orchestra rehearsal and your 8:00 advisory, you sit in front of your locker and map out your day.  Projects you have to work on, reading that needs to be finished, papers to write, plus 3 hours of practicing and rehearsing.  Maybe you have a extra-curricular club meeting or a family obligation thrown in there as well because, you know, life. You start every day feeling utterly defeated before it even begins–the math never works out.  There aren’t actually enough hours in the day to get do what is being asked of you by your school teachers, coaches and music instructors. I see you so clearly, because I was you.  When I was in high school, that was me.  That was my everyday existence.

Week after week, I see the high school and college students that I meet facing the same dread.  Homework, Tests, and Group Projects battling it out with Practicing, Rehearsals and Concerts for their time and brain space. They feel as if they constantly have to choose who they are going to disappoint that week.  “Sorry, I didn’t finish that assignment.”  “Sorry, I didn’t study for that test.”  “Sorry, I didn’t get much practicing in this week.”  “Sorry, I still haven’t learned that scary orchestra passage.”

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But here’s the thing.  I survived.  Somehow, I wasn’t kicked out of my honors classes, and somehow, I got into music school.  Somehow, it all worked out, and I learned a few important tricks along the way.  I always share these tips and practice hacks with my students, and I am offering them up here to you all as well.  Take a deep breath.  It’s going to be okay.

 

1. Map out the big picture Music commitments for the entire year in advance.

Ask your teachers for help with this.  When are districts? Studio recitals? orchestra concerts? competitions you are interested in doing? (and the application deadline), auditions for summer festivals? (and their application deadlines!). Everything you can think of that has a definite, set-in-stone date already. Put them in your calendar.

2. Map out the big school commitments.

Is there a senior trip that happens every year over spring break? What about that dreaded “Junior Year Research Paper” that stretches between January and Spring Break? Is there a big science fair that you want to enter? When is that? When is the submission deadline? When are your orchestra concerts?  Are you going to be in the pit band for the school musical? When are those required rehearsals going to be? (trust me, the director has known all of this since the first day of school—just ask).

 

3. Take note of where different commitments overlap

Now that you have everything in front of you, you will be able to see where things are a little bit crowded.  Maybe you have that huge research paper happening between January and mid-March, but, oh look!  That’s exactly when you have to submit your summer festival audition recordings.  (deep breath) Now you know that you’ll need to have your audition music learned and ready to go by the time to you get back from winter break, right? With the music learned, You’ll just be recording and submitting, and then you can give your full attention to the paper.  Likewise, if you have a big competition happening in the middle of that research paper? You’ll need to get ahead of the game in your research so you can ease up the week of the competition and focus on your practicing without falling behind.

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4. Communicate with your teachers when you anticipate a problem.

I remember talking to a teacher who assigned a fairly long essay on Friday and said it was due Monday morning.  But I had my usual 8am-7pm Music Center activities on Saturday and a competition on Sunday afternoon.  I stayed after class and told my teacher about my weekend and that the competition was really important to me and I wanted to be able to really focus on it for Sunday, but that writing a good essay was ALSO important to me, and I couldn’t do both of those things at the same time.  I couldn’t fully focus on my competition AND write a good essay.  She nodded, asked me if I thought I could have it finished by Wednesday, and wished me luck on my competition.  I was amazed.  She understood!  She was helping me!  Likewise, now that I am on the other side of things, I can appreciate it when a student comes into a lesson and tells me that they have 4 tests the following week and do not anticipate having a lot of time to practice.  I can take that into consideration, and maybe NOT ask them to learn the next movement of their concerto that week, or tell them to have their piece memorized at the next lesson.  Always remember that we teachers are going with our own timeline when we assign things (both in school and in music).  But the learning is for YOU.  There is time to do everything, just not at once. Trust that we are all on your side and will help you when you need it.

 

5.Don’t wait until you have large chunks of time to practice.

You’ll probably find that you don’t often HAVE large chunks of time every day.  And yet, we often feel like if we don’t have at least two hours available to us, there is no point.  If you’re practicing smart (and you can read more about that here and here) you already have some small sections marked out as well as a few scary technical passages that always need a bit of drilling.  Those are perfect for those times that you walk in the door and you hear “dinner will be ready in 15 minutes!”.  Great–do you know how many times you can drill that passage in 15 minutes?  Awesome.  Go do it.   And depending on your mood and how much of either you need to do, you can use homework as a practice break activity or you can practice between homework subjects. By the way, you ARE listening to your pieces (solo, chamber music and orchestra) while you do your homework, right?

 

6. Try to schedule two or three 1- hour blocks each week that you treat as an extra lesson.

You wouldn’t blow off a lesson because you felt like playing 10 more minutes of that video game, right? So, if your schedule says 5pm practice, then at 5pm, get up and practice.  The rest of your practicing will be done in those small nooks and crannies mentioned above, but this is your full focus time. Because I can guarantee you can find one hour 3 days a week.  The rest of your practicing will be done in those smaller chunks throughout the week.

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Some of the Savannah Arts Academy Orchestra

7. Can you practice at school?

Do you have free periods or study halls that you can get signed out of and use a practice room or an empty ensemble room? Or if you often get to school 30 minutes early, or picked up 30 minutes late, can you use that time to knock out a few sections?

 

8. Create shedding sheets.

Arts and Crafts, anyone?  Collect your music (solo, etudes, chamber music, orchestra music-everything!) and pick out the spots that have tricky passages that just need a lot of shedding.  Photocopy those pages.  Cut out the passages and glue them to a piece of blank paper.  You’ll end up with a few pages of random passages from all sorts of different pieces.  When you are practicing (especially if you only have 10-15 minutes) take out that sheet and start shedding the passages one by one.  Even in your busiest weeks, you will make good progress on your pieces this way. You can also just bring this sheet to school with you if you are going to practice a bit there, so you don’t have to drag all of your music books with you.

 

9. Have a clear goal of what you want to accomplish or improve on that week in your practicing.

That goal shouldn’t just be “get better”.  It can be “be able to play through the entire Popper Etude. “ Or, “fix those double stops at letter C” or “memorize the Bach”. Even those weeks where you are fully loaded up on extra school work or activities, pick a smaller goal for yourself, like: “I am going to listen to the recording of my concerto every day on the way to school” or “ I want to be able to play the first half of the first page of the popper”.  And do something every day to get yourself closer to that goal.

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10. Accept that you are human.

You will have days every once in a while when you didn’t get it all done.  You’ll get a bad grade, you’ll have a poor performance.  Please keep in mind that one bad thing does not make or break your career–academically or musically.  If you fail at something, use it to figure out how to do it better next time, and, above all, learn to ask for help.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by it all, tell someone (a parent, a teacher, a school counselor) and let them help you to take it easy and figure it out.  Every high school student/musician in the world is feeling the same pressures as you.  Talk to your friends about it. Don’t feel that you need to impress each other by saying that you practice 5 hours a day when you are struggling to find 2.  Support one another and come up with solutions together.

a little advance planning, a few little life and practice hacks and a heck of a lot of communicating with your parents, school teachers, music teachers and anyone else who can help support you, you WILL get through these four years.  Believe me, if I could, you can too!

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New Trier High School. I survived.

Have you figured out some creative ways to balance your homework and practice schedules? Let us know in the comment.  Your peers will thank you!

-Kate