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.
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:
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
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.
Wanna hear how great her music is?
Here’s a video of Roomful of Teeth performing her Partita.
You can get the whole sha-bang here.
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 a 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome to the tribe!
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.
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?
Shearling slippers are a must. The ultimate in coziness.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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!
Wishing all of you the Happiest Thanksgiving Weekend. May your cranberries be canned (yes!) and your turkey not be burnt to a crisp. Here are a few of our more popular recent posts, in case you need a break from the game, an escape from nosey (well-meaning?) relatives, or just a little “alone” time over the next few days.
This month’s spotlight is shining on horn player, writer and podcaster Tracy Friedlander-creator of the podcast Crushing Classical. Here, she talks about her own path of discovery towards her ideal career, growing up in Chicago (we played in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra together!), the No. 1 Secret of Success she has learned from interviewing hundreds of people in creative fields, and the one piece of advice she would give to an incoming college freshman.
TFTL: What made you decide to start a podcast?
TF: At a career crossroads myself, I realized I didn’t feel like I had any options besides getting back on the audition track. I started looking around for myself at what people were doing and thought “gee, maybe I should start a podcast”! Once I started I could see that there were so many musicians creating unique careers that had interesting and inspiring stories to share.
TFTL: Do you have a morning ritual or routine? Can you share some of it?
TF: I ALWAYS start my day with a cup of yerba mate. Every morning I get up and do a sort of reflection/meditation, and review what I have coming up for the day… usually I do some writing, and always drink tea while doing it!
TFTL: What’s been your biggest overall takeaway after having interviewed so many different musicians?
TF: That the best quality you can possibly have is self awareness. When you are in tune with what you really want in your life, it helps you make better decisions when moving toward a career. Tactically this looks like really reflecting about what you want for your LIFE – do you love travel? Do you have a particular place in mind where you want to live? Do you want a family? The people I’ve interviewed seem to have a strong sense of what works for THEM – and they’ve been able to create a career custom to who they are. That’s what I hope people are able to see through my interviews and reflect on what it means for their own purpose.
TFTL: What is the best part about your career?
TF: Conversations. I enjoy having meaningful conversations with people about creating music and art they love. It inspires me to do the same thing. I also love that I’ve built a platform in which I can share my ideas and other people’s stories – and hopefully by doing it keep inspiring people to do things they love.
TFTL: Practicing: Love it or Hate it?
TF: I guess I have a love/hate relationship with practicing… I’ve gone through times where I hated practicing those SAME excerpts again for another audition. Now I look at practice as a way to stay in shape, like a workout. And I’m learning new things, like learning to improvise. It’s fun to challenge myself to learn new skills.
TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician?
TF: I really looked up to the Chicago Symphony horns. I grew up outside of Chicago and theirs were my first recordings of classical music I ever listened to.
TFTL: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?
TF: I think by the time I was a 14 or so – once I was playing in youth orchestra I was hooked. It was so much fun, I could barely imagine you could get paid for doing something so incredible.
TFTL: What do you think it takes to “make it” in today’s classical music world?
TF: I think it depends on what your definition of “make it” is – and you need to really define what that is for yourself. Personally, I think you’ve made it when you don’t have to rely solely on being chosen by someone else to do what you love. So, in order for that to be the case, it’s your job to CREATE something that you can call your own. Then, regardless of if you audition or not, you have something that is yours. That’s when you’ve made it in my eyes.
TFTL: What is your favorite thing about going to a classical music concert these days?
TF: I like to go to a classical concert if it’s one of my favorite symphonies or a piano concerto, but mostly my favorite concerts to go to now are more unique, outside of the box concerts.
TFTL: What advice would you give to an 18-year old freshman at a music conservatory?
TF: Get OUT of the music school and EXPLORE your university. I don’t care about required classes or any of that. Find out what you are interested in. Study a diverse range of things while you can. Also – study abroad! There’s no better time to live in another country and learn about a new culture and learn a new language than when you’re young. There are fabulous teachers all over the world, especially in Europe. Go find out what that’s like!
TFTL: If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?
TF: Without a doubt, Leonard Bernstein. I would want to talk to him about how he would suggest musicians can continue his legacy, and what he would do personally if he were in his prime today with the internet and social media.
TFTL: Quickies: Tea or Coffee? NYC or Maine? Summer or Winter? Yoga or Crossfit?
TF: Tea every day, but coffee for a treat. NYC. SUMMER! Crossfit (actually, weight training to be specific!)
TFTL: Where can people find you?
TF: I’m on Facebook and Instagram @crushingclassical.
You can also find my writing on Medium.com
For the Podcast: Tune in to Crushing Classical on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, iHeart Radio, Android App, YouTube, Spotify or Stitcher
A new episode of Crushing Classical comes out every two weeks. You can subscribe HERE by going into itunes, and you’ll get the newest episode delivered to your app of choice each time a new episode launches! I have loved every one of her episodes. She always has incredibly inspiring guests, and I love hearing their stories about how they have shaped their own unique career.
Happy Friday! This weekend is the last sane weekend before the HOLIDAYS begin, isn’t it? I’m in Boston, battling snow and cold (and writing Xmas cards). Tomorrow I am going to see my former teacher perform the Elgar Concerto in Providence, and on Sunday I am playing a trio concert with some good friends. It’s been a great week of teaching, rehearsing, playing concerts and seeing tons of friends, but I’m excited to get back to some warm weather next week! Here is the first Gift Guide of the season–just in time for next week’s Black Friday sales! So start planning ahead! This one is for the musician in your life-whether they are a serious student or a professional, here are all of the things that make our lives easier (and nary a treble clef earring in sight!!)
2. This mug warmer! There is nothing like knowing that you can keep practicing as long as you need to without worrying that your coffee/tea/hot chocolate is getting cold. (priorities, people!). I have two. They are genius.
3. Hand warmers! for before concerts, auditions, when you’re walking from the car into a lesson in the winter. We can’t play well when our fingers are cold, and they make great stocking stuffers!
4. This travel steamer. I got this one before I went to Seattle, and it was perfect. Compact and easy to pack, but really got the job done to take wrinkles out of concert attire quickly and easily.
5. a beautiful coffee mug. There is something about being a musician and loving coffee and loving beautiful things. So a beautiful coffee vessel is always a winner.
6. Some books: This one I cannot recommend highly enough. If you have a musician in your life that has not read/done this book, be their hero and get it for them. I talked more about it in my last post about creative breakthroughs. Or if fiction is more their thing, this one about a concert pianist on the road is like reading a recurring nightmare that we have all had. And for some practical career advice, this one is a must-read.
7. Leatherwood Rosin is #stringplayergoals. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but their bespoke rosin “recipes” are pretty dreamy.
8. Organizing all of the different aspects of a musician’s life can be difficult. Keeping teaching hours from rehearsal hours to practice time to life admin time. It took me a LONG time to find a day planner that reflected how my “crazy musician’s life” worked. Ink & Volt makes them, and they come in a variety of colors and options.
9. I was looking to borrow a stand light for a recent concert and when I asked a bunch of my colleagues in Boston, Not one person had a working one! So, if you have a Boston musician in your life, chances are, they would be happy to receive one of these!
10. Last but not least, and there is no link here, because it will depend on your location, but I do not know a single musician who, right now, at this very moment, is not thinking “oh man, I need a massage!“. You know how professional athletes use and abuse their bodies on a daily basis, so their teams/coaches etc. supply regular massage therapists to work on them so that they can be at their best when they perform? Yeah, we don’t get those (though we DO use and abuse our bodies on a daily basis, and we ALSO need to be at our best when we perform!) So, low-hanging fruit? maybe, but still always a winner.
Fellow musicians, what would you add? Let me know in the comments!
We’ve all been there. You SHOULD be motivated to work, to practice, to paint, to do whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. But you just can’t get yourself to do it. Your body aches as if you have the flu, but you know you don’t. You just can’t muster the energy, drive and focus to get anything done. For me, it happens about once every 7 months. I’ll be churning along and suddenly, I’ve lost my mojo. I just can’t be bothered to write another email, come up with a worthwhile blog post, and I have to force myself to practice. It feels horrible, I start to doubt myself, my resolve, my abilities, and it starts to feel like it’s all going to fall apart.
What I have come to realize though, after having gone through these rough patches quite a few times over the last 20 years or so, is that on the other side of them (EVERY. SINGLE. TIME, people) was a breakthrough of some sort. And now I know the secret. My body knows when it’s time to shift up before my brain does. It’s like it can feel the frustration of being ready to take things up a level, but my conscious brain hasn’t quite caught on yet. So my brain is saying “do the things you’ve been doing! Why can’t you just get up and do them? What is wrong with you?” And my body is saying “ummm….No!, Because it doesn’t feel like it’s the right thing anymore, and I’m just going to curl up over here in the fetal position and be utterly useless until you figure out what comes next”.
Here are some examples. Years ago, when I first moved to Boston but was traveling for months at a time throughout the year, I went through a doozy of a patch. I didn’t understand it. I was living the dream! I had constant work, got to travel all over the place and was always with friends. On the other side of that, was the realization that while I had what everyone kept telling me was “the best life”. what I really craved was a routine. A home, a teaching studio. I hadn’t realized until that moment how much I missed working with students. So I eased up on the travel, took on some students and bought a condo. One funk I was going through resulted in my planning, funding and recording my first cd, The French Cello. Another one resulted in my moving to Bermuda to have a simpler life and to focus on my performing and my teaching (and start a blog). In every instance, I was living what I thought was the best possible life, and then, post funk was able to tweak things and pivot in ways that offered an improved situation. Looking back, I can see that while it seemed at the time that I kept zig-zagging, actually, it was a direct, upwards line to where I always dreamt I would be. And I’m still heading there, folks, so I expect a few more funks to come my way.
A similar thing happens on the micro-level as well. You’re perfectly happy with your playing. Things are going well. You’re working hard, and (though things can ALWAYS be better) you are happy with your performances, other people are happy with your performances, and life is grand. Then, suddenly, you realize that your vibrato could be better, or more varied, or something. And suddenly, you can’t think of anything else. How could you have felt okay about any of your previous performances when your vibrato was so horrible? Who did you think you were? You become focused on it, on watching and studying other people’s vibrato, taking note of whose you like, and whose you don’t care for as much, you start working on it, and suddenly, not only do you have a vibrato that you’re happy with, but you have learned so much about vibrato that you write a book on the pedagogy of vibrato and it becomes a best seller and voila! Life is grand.
So, how do deal with these low points? What to do? How to turn them into your next Breakthrough? Here are 5 steps to getting through them:
When you realize that you are “In A Funk”. Tell yourself that this is a moment of pre-growth for you. That you need to loosen the reigns on how you were doing things before and pay attention to what you need. Be easy on yourself. It’s okay to do a little less and say no to non-essential obligations that week. Eat your favorite foods, and maybe take a bubble bath or two.
Meditation is obviously going to work wonders here, and I highly recommend you try it. There are a lot of great new apps like calm and headspace that can help get you started. If you are just NOT into it, try taking some long solo walks instead, or spend some time puttering around your house or garden (car, boat, whatever. It’s all about tinkering).
Journaling has always been my thing. I’ve done it daily since I was a lonely latch-key kid with no one to talk to. By journaling, I became my own company and was essentially talking to myself. What is interesting about journaling, is that it’s true–parts of your sub-conscious self will start coming through and talking to your conscious self. I’ll never forget the day I was writing away about future concerts and logistics and teaching hours and all of a sudden from nowhere I wrote: “I just wish I could be a writer”. Ummmmm what? Who was that? But it kept creeping back in until my conscious mind caught on and said. Oh! Maybe I can start a blog!
This has become so much easier since Instagram became a thing, but the gist of it is this: scroll through social media and pay attention to what gives you a tinge of jealousy. My friend did this and was amazed. He had been practicing and working for years trying to get an orchestra job and kept coming close–always making it past the first round, and often into the finals. He wanted it so badly he could taste it, but he found that when he was scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, it never fazed him when someone posted about winning a job. He didn’t really care. But when people posted about their life as an insta–traveler, a digital nomad, he would turn green with envy. He realized that he had been trained to get an orchestra job, that was the highest pinnacle of achievement for him, but the thought of going to the same job in the same hall with the same people day after day, week after week, year after year, actually filled him with dread. He longed to travel, to see the world, to do pick up gigs all over the globe. And now that is exactly what he does.
For any creative type out there, actually, for ANYONE out there, I highly recommend this book. Julia Cameron wrote it decades ago and I first found it when I was 23, and a fellow at the New World Symphony. It is broken down into 12-weeks of questions and “assignments”, and, well, I just can’t say enough wonderful things about it. When I find myself stuck deep into a funk, or if I am in the midst of a substantial pivot in my life, I take it out and start at the beginning again. Here: I’ll make it easy on you.
Now, whenever I wake up with those familiar aches and that dreaded lack of motivation, I actually get a little excited. I know something amazing and fresh and new is about to hatch; and with a little self-care, understanding, space, and patience, those funks don’t seem to last as long anymore.
I’d love to hear what breakthroughs you have experienced after a funk. It’s obviously not limited to musicians, I think this is something we ALL go through. Share your story in the comments!