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

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.

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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! 

 

My Week in Florida

Hi Everyone,

Sorry I have been a bit MIA as of late.  February was insane, and then March got even crazier.  I’ve missed writing, but then you know how it goes….the longer you wait, the harder it is to get going again.  I realized that I hadn’t even posted about last month’s trip to Florida, so that’s where I’ll start.

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I had planned this week of concerts around South Florida to coincide with Paul’s February School Holidays, so he was able to join me for for the trip.  I had been in Boston for some recording sessions and a concert the week before, so we met up in Miami for a little sight-seeing and relaxation, and then moved our way up and down between Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach.  I had a mix of public and private recitals, school workshops and master classes scheduled for the latter half of the week.  Over our 8 days there, we caught up with dear friends, met some new ones, and I got to perform my solo program for a whole bunch of people. We explored the Wynwood area in Miami, checked out the Museum of Science, and went to the New World Symphony Gala.  We walked the Riverwalk in Ft. Lauderdale and hit up the shopping strip in Palm Beach, spent time with my uncle and time at the beach. It was lovely.

But we were also there on Valentine’s Day, and what should have been (especially during marriage month!) our über romantic get-away, ended up being a horrible, horrible, awful, mind-numbing day when 17 innocent kids were gunned down at their own high school a couple of miles from where we were at the time.  Needless to say, it lent a bit of a grayish tint on my memories of the week.  Everyone was distracted.  I showed up to play my concert the following day and they had completely forgotten about me.  I do strongly believe that music heals the soul, but in truth, no one was really in the mood for a concert, least of all me.  The concerts all happened (except one, but that’s a whole different story….!) but we were all walking around in a bit of a daze–at times pretending that everything was fine, and at other times, depressed and uninterested in doing anything at all.

It was, however, good to be in some warmer weather, and as I mentioned, we got to spend time with relatives and dear old friends – some of whom I had not seen in over a decade.  We ate delicious meals and went on romantic walks. I got to see Paul get excited over geeky things at the science museum and he got to catch a glimpse into my former life in Miami Beach.

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So, there you have it.  It was a strange and bizarre trip, and while it wasn’t the luxurious get-away I was hoping for, I am so grateful that Paul was there with me.  I’m not sure I could have done it without him.  Logistically and emotionally, I needed him there.  He drove me to concerts so that I wouldn’t arrive exhausted, he chatted up audience members and convinced them to buy cds, and he let me snap at him (sorry!) when I didn’t really know how to answer his questions that were generally along the lines of “what the hell is wrong with your country?” and “Why can’t you guys solve your gun problem the way the rest of the world has?”

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It was in Miami, actually, many moons ago, when Gary Hoffman gave me some advice that I have never forgotten.  When I asked him what it was like to travel around the world as a concert cellist, he looked at me, and said “Well, you just have to accept that 85% of the time you’re going to feel like shit.  You’re going to be jet-lagged, or have a headache, or have caught a cold on the airplane, or some weird thing is going to be going on in your life or around you, but you have to learn how to just show up and do it anyway.”  That week in Florida definitely tested me in a lot of ways, but overall, I think will come away with fond memories of the people I met and got to play for, the talented and enthusiastic students I worked with, of renewed friendships and tender moments. And on Saturday, I will be thinking of all of those people marching in the States, I’ll be going for a long walk around the island in solidarity.

-Kate

On the Road Again

I’m sitting on an airplane flying from Bermuda to Boston.  I have 4 days there–teaching some lessons, and recording and rehearsing a program of Joan Tower’s music for BMOP.  From there, I head off to Miami, where Paul will meet me for a little concert tour/vacation combo.  Between the 30 degrees and snowy weather in Boston, the 82 degrees and sunny temperatures in Florida, and the mix of concerts, teaching, and beach/date time, this was an interesting trip to pack for!  Continue reading

My February Focus

 

If you have been following along on my plan to focus each month on a particular aspect of my life, you’ll know that I have already done “Health”, “Career”, “BYSO”-one aspect of my professional life, “Home”, and “Blogging”.  Some months were super clear and easy, and others were a bit more difficult and abstract than I thought they would be. God knows I have already had some wrenches thrown into the works (umm, hello computer dying in the middle of “career” month and losing some very valuable work information…oops.).  But I am so happy to say that at the end of every single month, I have been able to point to a list of things I accomplished that improved that focus area, and that every single month, I have come away feeling like I have learned a few important things, and have created some sustainable habits that will help continue the progress.   I am excited to keep going with this plan, but to be perfectly honest, I am a little apprehensive about this month’s focus: Marriage.

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At the beginning of this 12-Month Focus Project, I drew up a list of the 12 most important areas of my life, and then set about assigning a particular month to each area– trying to choose the month that makes the most sense.  I was feeling the need hit “reset” on my body after a long summer, so I made September “Health” month, and since I will be seeing lots of family in July, that gets “Family” month.  But “Marriage”? well, there IS Valentine’s Day, and I booked my week of concerts in Florida for his half-term break so that he can join me and make it a working holiday.  But otherwise, it’s a bit arbitrary.  On one hand, we’ve only been married for a couple of years.  We are definitely still newlyweds.  On the other hand, my marriage is one of THE MOST important things in my life, and I want to cherish and nurture it.  In other words, I am more than happy to devote a month to focusing on my marriage, but it’s not like we need any kind of major overhaul.  There are no big issues to resolve, and we don’t have kids, so we already get to spend a lot of quality time alone together.  So, what should I do?

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I decided to take a cue from one of my original inspirations for this whole project: Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  She devoted a month to her marriage as well, and this was her list:

  • Quit nagging
  • Don’t expect praise or appreciation
  • Fight right
  • No dumping
  • Give proofs of love

 

Sounds about right.  I’ll start with these and add any others that come up.   At the very least, at the end of the day (er…month) Paul will be one very happy husband!  Wish me luck!

-Kate

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January 30-Day Focus: Blogging

 

I can’t believe I’m already on month 5 (F-I-V-E!!!) of my (year-long) 30-Day Focus Project, and I have to say, it has been an AMAZING experiment for me.  The clarity I have found in identifying the 12 most important areas of my life has been profoundly helpful in improving my ability to make plans, decisions, and set goals for my work, my relationships and in basically every area of my life.  I feel like I have accomplished more in the last 4 months than I have in the last 4 years!  I’ve been announcing each one as they come, but here is the full list in case you’ve been curious: Continue reading

3 Things to Leave Behind in 2017

 

Hello, and welcome to 2018! I had a great time with my family here in Bermuda and it has been so wonderful to slow down, relax, and spend some quality time with friends.(and also my couch!)

As I mentioned in this post from last September, my life and my career more closely follow an academic (Aug-July) year than a calendar (Jan-Dec) year,  but one can’t help but be swayed by the masses doing their yearly tallies and New Year’s Resolutions.  I am a total sucker for a new start of any kind, and also for any and all forms of self-reflection.  So, even though I feel as though this holiday time is merely a half-way point, it has been interesting to look at 2017 as a whole and figure out some highlights, as well as how I have grown over the last 12-months (starting with my hips, but that’s due to too many Christmas cookies!).  I believe that as we grow as people, it is as important to shed past habits, thoughts and actions and consciously leave them behind, as it is to embrace the shiny newness of an adopted habit/job/family situation, etc.  So here are 3 things I am choosing to leave behind with the rest of the 2017 detritus Continue reading

My Month of Home

December.  Month of holidays, vacations, family and get-togethers.  Whether you are celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, or the First Snow Day of the season, there is no denying that December is one cozy-ass month. Even here in Bermuda, the lights in town are twinkling, and the nights get chilly enough to throw on a sweater or curl up in front of a fire.  And for that reason, I decided to make My Home the focus of this month. Continue reading

The $100 Bill

What would you do if I handed you a $100 bill?  

I once had a student who started cello lessons with me when he was 5 years old, and he LOVED the cello.  He loved playing the cello, he loved practicing the cello (as soon as he woke up-at 5am! Much to his parents’ dismay).  But he had this weird thing he did–He only used about 3 inches of bow–ever (probably due to the fact that he was trying not to wake his parents up!).  And every week he would come into his lesson, sad about his lack of tone, and I would say “Use your whole bow!  Use more arm weight! Yes!!!! Just like that! Do it again!  Terrific!  Okay.  Practice this piece like that, with big bows, and you’ll always sound like that”.  And he would leave his lesson super excited about knowing exactly what to do to get that great big cello sound he was after.  And then he would come in a week later, using only 3 inches of bow, and sad that he sounded so wimpy.  And we would repeat the cycle. Continue reading

Happy October!

Happy October! Month of fall foliage, Halloween costumes, apple picking and pumpkin spice lattes.  I will have none of those things in Bermuda; here, October means hurricanes, getting the garden planted (and then losing it all to the afore-mentioned hurricanes) and finding lightweight clothing in fall colors.  Bermudians love their Fall Fashion, even though it’s 85 degrees and sunny!  Bless them.  But don’t worry, I’ll be spending a lovely 9 days in Chicago playing concerts and working with various student groups.  I’m so excited for all of that, but I’m also excited to take a few walks around Lake Michigan, oohi-ng and ahh-ing over the changing leaves, and I will probably bribe my nephews to hit-up starbucks with me once or twice a day for a PSL fix.

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After an awesomely productive and enlightening September, I’m excited to move onto my next 30-Day Project.  September was “Health” and if you are curious, you can read about it here and here.  October is going to be…….drumroll, please….. “Career”.  Specifically, my performance career.  (Spoiler alert: the “Teaching” and “Youth Orchestra” aspects of my career will each have their own month).  I’m looking forward to booking some more concerts for this year and next (and the next—I’m already booking concerts for the 2019-2020 season!) cleaning up and updating my website, maybe getting some new headshots done, and learning how to write and send a good press-release, amongother things. I’m looking forward to ending the month with new kinds of content and a lot more of it to choose from.  Obviously I’ll be practicing a ton gearing up for my week of concerts in Chicago, and I’m curious to see how playing so many recitals in 1 week will feel.  I’m starting things off with my brand new business cards that the mother of one of my students designed.  Didn’t she do an incredible job?

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designed by @mercedesigns

business cards

designed by @mercedesigns

Again, the name of the game here is to make a little bit of progress in this area each day.  Make necessary investments and read whatever I can find on the subject.  If you have any ideas, please send them along in the comments.  And in the meantime, Enjoy a caramel apple and a cider doughnut for me, please.