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.

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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?

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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!) . 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

-Kate

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Holiday Gift Guide for Musicians

How to Make a Supplemental Audition Recording

Holiday Gift Guide for Your Child’s Music Teacher

Spotlight Series: Crushing Classical’s Tracy Friedlander

Turning a Funk into Your Next Breakthrough

How to Learn a Piece of Music Once You’ve Left School

Secrets of Effective Practicing

Ten Things I Wish I had Known When I was Taking Auditions

The $100 Bill

Teaching According to The Four Tendencies

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(Sorry, little buddy!) 

Friday Favorites: Holiday Edition! Gifts For the Musician in Your Life

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!!)

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1 Tis the season for dry weather, and protecting instruments is super important. These rubber and sponge humidifiers are lifesavers. violin  viola  cello  bass   woodwind

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.

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Fellow musicians, what would you add? Let me know in the comments!

Cheers!

Kate

5 Steps to Turning a Funk into Your Next Breakthrough

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.

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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:

1. Accept it for what it is.

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.

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News Cafe, Miami

2. Spend time alone, doing not much of anything.

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).

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3. Get yourself a journal and start writing.

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!

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4. Do a jealousy scroll.

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.

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5. Use the Artists’ Way.

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.

The Artist’s Way

 

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!

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These opinions are my own, and were NOT sponsored in any way.  Tales From the Lane posts may include affiliate links. Thank you for supporting the blog! 

 

Friday Favorites

Hi!  Did you stay up late Tuesday night watching the midterm election returns in the US?  I did, and I think I’m still recovering (physically AND emotionally!) though I pleased about the increasing diversity we are seeing, and with the fantastic youth voter turnout (keep it up, guys!).  We’re having a low-key weekend over here.  Paul is racing both days, and I’ll be teaching a bunch of lessons, working in my garden, and thinking about fall weather.  It’s hard to get organized about the holidays when it’s 75 and sunny!  Are you hosting any get-togethers this season?  Here are a few ideas to help your planning, as well as a few things to keep you entertained over the weekend.  Have a great one!

If you were inspired by the progress made in the midterm elections and want to keep the momentum going, check out DoSomething.org It’s a fantastic site organizing volunteer efforts around the globe.

These would be great as part of your regular concert black gear, or with a nice top for recitals, or just as a party or concert attendee!  Black satin trousers

The perfect crossbody bag if you’re going somewhere warm (or live on an island, hint hint)

Even though it’s still warm and sunny over here in Bermuda, I’m ready to start decking my house out for the holidays.  Here are some simple and pretty things that will make your house feel all warm and cozy.

Wreath , Table Runner, Place card holders

If you’re looking for some fun holiday themed music to play, Virtual Sheet Music offers tons of customizable pieces that are ready for immediate download!  Check it out here:

Speaking of music shops, Johnson’s Strings is having a big sale on strings right now.  It’s  time to stock up!

During the crazy holiday time, I prefer short stories  to novels.  These are so beautiful and touching and no matter how many times I have read them, I keep reaching for them again and again. Here are some others that I want to check out as well. And of course, these are always a treat!

It’s a great time to be Armenian!  The new exhibit, Armenia! at the Met is receiving rave reviews from everyone I know, and the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown, MA is having a grand re-opening reception next Thursday, Nov. 15th to show off their newly re-designed space.  (I’ll be there, too, so come on out and say hello!)

The party season is about to commence. Are you ready?  A friend of mine had the brilliant idea to just stock up now on a drawer full of great (and not too expensive!) host/hostess gifts.  Here are a few nice ideas–whether you are visiting for a few days of thanksgiving, or showing up to a dinner party:

I would love this wine chiller,Everyone has one wine chiller, but how nice to be able to keep a few bottles chilling on the table.  You can always use another!

A really nice, great smelling (and not so cheap that it’ll give you a headache!) candle is such a luxury.  This Tocca Candle would be a great gift if you are staying overnight.

Every year I seem to run out of taper candles and just the wrong moment (i.e. moments before a dinner party!) And good luck finding any red tapers in a store the weeks leading up to Christmas!  If a guest showed up bearing some of these, I would be forever grateful!

I got one of these Champagne Stoppers as a stocking stuffer one year, and it has come in so handy on numerous occasions.  Can’t quite finish that bottle of bubbly?  Not to worry!

And how grateful would your host be to be able to soak their tired achey feet after cleaning, cooking and hosting a gathering all day?  Bath salts to the rescue!

Of course, you can’t go wrong with food.  These look almost too good to eat!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Cheers,

Kate

 

 

On Tour: Chicago, Seattle and Victoria

Last month, I went on a little mini recital tour to Seattle and Victoria, and I stopped in Boston and Chicago on the way.  I got to see dear friends that I had not seen in years (and meet their children!) and I finally got to see the PNW for the first time (spoiler alert: it’s gorgeous).  The trip was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work.  Without a pianist or my very helpful husband to pitch in with the driving and other logistical matters, I was exhausted when I got back home.

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Because I often have to check my cello (in its extra heavy-duty Stevenson flight case), I try to do direct flights whenever I can.  In this case, I needed to stop in Boston for a couple of days anyway.  I taught some lessons, caught up with a good friend over dinner, rehearsed with the always-lovely Craft Ensemble ladies for an upcoming concert and helped a student make her supplemental audition recording for her Nov. 1 college applications.  I managed to cram a lot into a short amount of time, but I also got to soak up some fall colors and enjoy the changing leaves (because I had NO idea what I was about to witness in Seattle).  Continue reading