Summer Festival Not in the Cards This Year? 10 Steps to Making This Your Most Epically Productive Summer Anyway.

Summer is here! (YESSS) If you’re off to learn/teach/perform at a summer festival or two, then you’re certainly in for a busy and inspiring 8 weeks.  But what if you’re not? Whether it’s due to financial considerations or because life is just requiring you to stay close to home this summer, all is not lost!  You can definitely turn the next 2 months into your most productive summer ever. Here are 10 things you can do this summer that will have you facing September 1st feeling like a boss.

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1. Learn a new set of repertoire

With a hectic concert schedule during the year, it’s almost impossible to learn new repertoire other than stealing a few minutes here and there from your practice sessions. You’ll often hear of soloists walking off stage from playing their concerto and heading to their dressing room to practice next week’s rep while the orchestra plays the 2nd half of the program!  Summer is the perfect time to work on pieces you want to add to next year’s repertoire list and brush up on some etudes and show pieces. If you have tried this before and found yourself procrastinating week after week, maybe you need some additional accountability built in.  You can form an online practice group with some friends or work with a practice coach, don’t let your need for outward accountability stand in your way this time.

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2. Give yourself an Etude Challenge

Want to go through all 40 Popper Etudes this summer? Or spend a week on each Piatti? You can read more about my thoughts on the benefits of Etudes here, but summer is a great time to geek out on them, and having a looming deadline will help you get your instrument out of its case every day.

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At Hamlin Robinson School

3. Set up some September outreach recitals

Contact your local library, retirement communities, or even a nearby prison and offer to play a program.  September is still pretty light in terms of concert schedules, and what a great feeling it will be to start the year off with a performance of your new repertoire under your belt, rather than that nagging feeling of being out of playing shape!

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4. Update your résumé and bio

Grab your calendar and write down everything you did last season.  Add it in, or swap things out as you see fit.  Is your font outdated? Does the style match your personality? Is your contact information correct? September often brings about auditions for local ensembles, and sub lists, and for you high school seniors, your dreaded College Applications.  Get your materials in order while you have the time this summer and you’ll be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

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5. Have new headshots done

Whether you hire a professional, or have a friend do them, summer is a great time to get a couple of new photos that you can use professionally.  The summer blooms and lush greenery make for fantastic outdoor backgrounds, and the golden hour light in the summer is A+.

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6. Organize your music collection

Some people like to do it by composer, others, by genre (Concerti, Sonatas, Solo works, etc) and there are some weirdos out there who do it by publisher…..what? Yep. I’ve seen it with my very own eyes. But whatever your method, take stock of what you have, see if anything needs some TLC.  Get a stamp with your name and email/website on it and make sure your name is on everything.  I’ll give you bonus points if you take it it all to a stationary shop and laminate the covers.

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7. Give your practice space a makeover

A properly set up practice space can give you a boost of motivation, a fresh perspective on things, and can make your life easier. Make sure you have the following:

  • A Rug–to keep the sound from being too “boomy” and to help with sound-proofing.
  • A mirror–to keep an eye on your technique (and taking mirror selfies, obviously)
  • An electric cup warmer—my most essential item (lol)
  • Plants
  • Nice artwork. A photo of your favorite player, or a sentimental picture from your youth. Puppies, kittens, rainbows, whatever inspires you.
  • A notebook. The repetitive nature of practicing (both playing a passage repetitively, and the fact that practicing itself is something we do every day) can put you into an almost meditative state. My best ideas, solutions to nagging problems, etc. usually come to me when I am practicing.  Keep a notebook handy so you can jot them down in the moment.
  • A cup/jar of sharpened pencils
  • An eraser
  • A metronome
  • Rosin/reeds/etc.
  • A good stand
  • A pencil/rosin/metronome holder that attaches to your stand

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8. Re-connect with some long-lost friends/mentors

Send a DM to someone you went to summer camp with. Email a former teacher or chamber music coach and let them know how your year went and what you’ve been up to.  Trust me, they’d LOVE to hear from you (hint hint)!  Call a colleague you haven’t seen in a while and make plans to meet up for a coffee or lunch.  Summer is a great time to catch up with people.  Schedules are more relaxed and people have more time to meet up. And you never know, you could end up brainstorming a fun project together for the upcoming season.

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9. Check out some outdoor concerts

I know the feeling.  If you finally have a day off from performing and teaching, the last thing you want to do is go to ANOTHER concert.  But it is vital that we rally our energy and do it anyway.  Summer concerts especially are fun, low-key, inspiring, and you’ll likely run into a bunch of people you haven’t seen in a while and it’ll turn into a big party.  Make some chicken salad, grab a big blanket and some bug spray and get out there.

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10. Relax!

Do some summer things!  Make a list of things that mean summer to you, and plan them into your days. Here’s mine:

  • Swim in the ocean (okay, I know….I live in Bermuda, and I go to the beach every week of the year…but you can only really SWIM in the summer). Also, I’ll be in Boston.
  • Eat lobster with LOTS of butter, preferably in Maine.
  • Eat homemade ice cream. Strawberry, cherry, peach, and blueberry are my faves in the summer months.
  • Go for a hike in the Blue Hills
  • Have a BBQ with my girlfriends and our families.
  • Make S’mores with my nephews in Chicago
  • Take our bikes on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and spend a day riding along the beach.

My Top 10 Favorite Books for Musicians

The ends of the concert season and school year are approaching and (thankfully!) bringing along the slower pace of the summer.  Even if we have a full schedule of festivals and concerts, there is a bit more free time between June and September.  It’s the perfect time to catch up on reading, and a great time to reach for a something that will keep you musically inspired through the summer months.  I’ve put together a list of my top-10 favorite books for musicians.  These are the books I would most recommend to colleagues AND students alike.

The following books have taught me about music making and life making alike, have given me insight into composers and performers I have long admired and given me fresh perspective on what it is I do, and why it is I do it.  It is, to be sure, an incomplete list–I wanted to limit it to my top 10, but please feel free to add your favorites to the comments.

P.S. Any of these would make a great graduation or post-recital gift for your favorite high-school musician.

Happy Reading!

-Kate

 

 

1. Casals and the Art of Interpretation by David Blum: The thoughts and wisdom of this musical giant should be read by every musician–no matter their instrument.

Casals

 

2. Beethoven, by Maynard Solomon: An in-depth look into Beethoven’s life and the world in which he lived.  You’ll never believe how much chocolate this man consumed on a daily basis.

Beethoven

 

3. Testimony, the Memoirs of Dmitry Shostakovich:  No one should attempt to play this man’s music without reading this book first.  An insight into his soul, and the stories behind the music.

Testimony

 

4. Joys and Sorrows, by Pablo Casals: This one is more autobiographical than philosophical.  You’ll learn important details of the political landscape (and minefield) of his time, and how they affected his career, and the careers of his contemporaries.

Joys and Sorrows

 

5. The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece by Eric Siblin: A charming and fascinating look at the Biography of J.S. Bach through the lens of his six suites for solo cello and the man who made them famous.

The Cello Suites

 

6. The Rest is Noise, by Alex Ross:  (from his website) “The narrative goes from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia to downtown New  York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. The end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.”

The rest is noise

 

7. High Performance Habits, by Brendon Burchard:  Burchard spent years researching the top performers in a wide range of fields-athletes, musicians, business, writers, artists, and statesmen, and came away with the six habits they all had in common.  He also found that these habits are accessible to us all.

High Performance Habits

 

8. Beyond Talent by Angela Myles Beeching: This books is like a warm hug and a gentle nudge for musicians embarking on a career.  She combines great advice everything from networking to branding with words of wisdom regarding balance and keeping stress to a minimum.

Beyond Talent

 

9. The Savvy Musician, by David Cutler: More great career advice.  Cutler goes into the nitty-gritty of making recordings, setting up concerts and gettin’ S&*^ done.

The Savvy Musician

 

10. The Artists Way, by Julia Cameron: This is a book that I recommend to everyone-even people who just want to get back in touch with their creative sides to help them in their non-artistic careers.  Cameron lays out 12 months of journaling and exercises to help you figure out what the heck it is you actually want and how to go out and get it.

Artists Way

Etudes: A Love Story

Anyone who has asked me how/what I practice each day knows that I play an etude every day. Usually I just go through my books of Popper or Piatti,  but sometimes I mix it up.  Every so often I go through a student level book just to remind myself of which one tackles which technical issue.  In fact, I look ahead at the “etude du jour” and use that key for my scales/octaves/arpeggios warm up before-hand, so you could say that Etudes are a very big part of my life.  That wasn’t always the case.

 

Growing up, my teacher would assign me an etude every week and I would, well, just kin of ignore it. You know, pretend it didn’t exist.  Hoped it would just sort of go away. Etudes were boring, and they were difficult to figure out, which made me feel like a bad musician (because surely no one ELSE had any trouble sight-reading them, right?) so I would show up to my lesson and tell my teacher that I had “forgotten my etude book at home”.  Some weeks she would just nod at me and say, well I’ll hear it next week then.  And sometimes she would fully call me out on it and put her own copy of it on the stand (a technique my own students are learning and catching onto quickly) and I would struggle through it and exasperate my poor teacher.

 

It took going to conservatory and studying with a man who would dedicate ENTIRE STUDIO CLASSES to The Glorious Etude, and we each had to perform one FROM MEMORY for our entire class to get me to truly appreciate the benefits of working on them.  The purpose of this blog is to save the rest of you the time that I wasted in my youth, so I’m going to just spell it out for you.  WORK ON YOUR ETUDES.  Here are 3 reasons why you’ll thank me if you do.

 

1. Your general playing ability will improve.

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David Popper. The Mac-Daddy of Cello Etudes

Each etude tackles one or two specific technical issues and just drills it into you.  Playing up-bow staccato? Check.  Playing chromatic scales up and down the cello and figuring out the best fingering for them? Check. Double Stops? Check.  Trills? Check.  Trouble with octave shifts? There’s one for that.  Trouble with ricochet? We’ve got you covered.  Working on the 2-3 measures of your concerto that has ricochet simply won’t fix the issue like working through a two-page etude where you have constant ricochet in every possible situation on the instrument will.  Students? Trust that your teachers are addressing your specific issues with their choice in etudes.  Adults? Try writing out a list of the top 5 issues in your playing that you want to improve, and then dug through your books of etudes and came up with a list for each of the 5. Spend a couple of months working on those etudes, and I guarantee you’ll see a huge improvement in those playing issues.

 

2.Your sight-reading will improve.

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Mr. Kruetzer. The man violinists love to hate.

Etudes are full of patterns, and the more you come across them, the more your brain and fingers will recognize those patterns in your performance repertoire.  Intervals will start to translate into certain fingering choices and you’ll find your able to play things through correctly the first time more often.  Start with some easier ones and gradually build up to trickier keys/clefs/registers.

 

3. Your confidence will improve.

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Piatti. My former nemesis.

I have a student who would consistently come into her lesson and say that she couldn’t do one of her assignments (be it a new section of a piece, an etude, her new orchestra or chamber music piece) because “it was too hard and she couldn’t figure it out”.  Through etudes, she is learning that “nothing is un-figure-outable”.  She can take something one measure at a time, heck, one NOTE at a time and put it together.  Piatti 6 used to scare the hell out of me.  I refused to attempt it.  I would play a few measures of it and then give up.  Then one day I forced myself to figure out 1 line a day.  That’s it.  Just one line, and then put it together with the lines I had done before.  Eventually, I was playing the entire thing.  It wasn’t as horrible a monster as I had made it out to be, but figuring it out like that did stretch me in a lot of ways.

 

What are some of your favorite etudes, and why?  What technical stumbling blocks do you have in your playing that you might be able to fix with some etudes? Leave a note in the comments!

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The “Non-Professional” Music Life

I bet you started playing when you were knee-high to a grasshopper.  In fact, you can’t really even remember much about your pre-music childhood.  Now you’re 17, and you’re choosing whether to major in music, or another one of your passions.  Or you’re 27 and a few years into your chosen (non-music) life and you finally feel like you’ve got a handle on this whole Adulting thing. Or you’re 47, your kids are more self-sufficient, and you find yourself with a bit more free time.

In any of these situations, you might be looking back on your years of music study–at least a decade of weekly lessons, chamber music groups, youth orchestra, not to mention the hours of practicing.  You did very well for yourself.  Won spots In the top groups,  made it into the Senior District or All-State orchestras.  You went to summer music camps and basically spent your entire  pre-college life dedicated to your instrument.

So? Was it worth it? What was it all for if you weren’t going to become a professional musician?  You might catch yourself glancing over at your instrument collecting dust in the corner (or worried that that is its fate), and feel a mix of emotions; the guilt of the unused talent, the enormous amount of money that was spent on your training, mixed with a yearning to play just one more Brahms string quartet or to be surrounded by the sound and vibrations of 100 other musicians on stage with you.

You can’t bear the thought of selling your instrument, and yet you can’t think of how or where you might play.  You gave up that right by choosing a different major, didn’t you? Was it all just a giant waste of time?

Absolutely not.

First of all, even if you never touched your instrument again, the skills you were developing as a musician will transfer to every part of your life.  You may not realize it now, but because of that intense training you endured as a kid you are:

  • Better equipped to give a presentation or talk
  • Have more knowledge of different languages and cultures
  • Have a higher level of self-discipline than your average adult
  • Have a longer attention span than most
  • Have an increased ability to focus intensely and for longer periods of time.

As you can see.  That musical training was really life-training in disguise, you just ALSO have bragging rights for the fact that you have performed in some of the major concert halls in the world.  That alone will make a fascinating bit of trivia for your future co-workers and dates!

So, let’s go back to those situations above.  The High Schooler deciding NOT to major in music, the 27-year old settling into their groove as an adult, or the 47-year old who suddenly finds herself with a bit more time on her hands.  Here are 10 things you can do to keep music in your life (or bring it back!) Some of these ideas are for while you’re still in college, and some are for after you’ve graduated, but any one of them will allow you to take advantage of the skills you have honed over those many years, and will allow you to remain connected forever to your musical passions.

 

1.Look for a college or university that has playing opportunities for non-music majors.

Find one with an “All-School Orchestra”– instead of, or in addition to one that is solely for the school’s music majors.  For some schools, that’s all they have.  They don’t have a performance major, so auditions are open to all students.  Some schools allow any student to audition for the school of music’s orchestra.  If you’re good enough to keep up with the music majors, you’re in.  Other schools offer chamber music, or have groups that organize themselves to play (not for credit).  Ask a lot of questions, and make sure that they know that you are interested in contributing your talents to the school.  If they are allocating funds to HAVE an all-school orchestra, then they need to make sure they accept enough non-music majors who play instruments to keep that orchestra going.  It will only help your chances of getting in!

2. Start a non-music major chamber music club.

Get together once a month (or as often as you all want) and read string quartets.  You can likely check out chamber music from the school’s collection, or pool together what you all have individually.  I like to give my graduating students a complete set of chamber music parts.  It’s often the first set they’ve ever owned, and I always hope that they’ll get together with some new-found college friends and break them in.

3. Find an amateur orchestra to play in.

There are groups in every community all over the world. Some of them, like the Longwood Symphony in Boston, are field-based (in this case, the medical field). In addition to performing around Boston, they go on international tours and give concerts/medical lectures!

4. Sign up for an adult amateur chamber music listing.

You can rank yourself according to your abilities/age/sight-reading level/experience, and like-minded people will email you when they are getting a group together to read for fun, or to put a little concert together.

5. Join the “young professionals” group at your local symphony.

They all have them.  You’ll be invited to cocktail parties and post-concert get togethers and you’ll get to know other non-music professionals who are as in love with Brahms as you are!

6. Join a continuing education’s chamber music program.

Most music schools (both at the community level and the college level) offer adult chamber music groups.  You’d have the benefit of a coach and performance opportunities

7. Be an active member of your music school’s or youth orchestra’s alumni group.

Donate a few dollars a year, go to the alumni events and stay in touch with your teachers and mentors.  Go to their concerts when you’re in town.  You’ll be reminded of the high level of music-making you achieved when you were that age.

8. Attend an adult chamber music summer camp.

There are programs at Interlochen, New England Music Camp, Summer Trios, and there are others as well–a simple google search will pull up several listings.  No kids allowed, just adults like you who love to play a nice Brahms Piano trio once in a while.  Also, there’s usually wine involved.

9. Join the board of a performing arts organization.

They need people like you!  People who have first-hand experience as a performer, but also bring needed (non-musical) professional skills and perspective.

10. Find an amateur pianist friend and put a little program together.

You can perform it as a house concert for friends and family, take it to hospitals and retirement homes as a form of community outreach, or just for the sake of playing pieces you both love, and challenging yourselves to learn new pieces once in a while.

An Opus Affair Event in Boston

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!)