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

A Week in Charleston and Savannah

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Earlier this month I was in Charleston and Savannah for a week-long recital tour.  The trip coincided with P’s school holiday, so he was able to join me, which was awesome.  It’s so nice to have someone around to help with concert logistics!  During the 8 days I was there, I was working a ton: I performed 9 times, taught master classes, met lots of great people, and even did a live-broadcast interview for South Carolina Public Radio, but I also ate delicious food, wandered around looking at all of the gorgeous houses and gardens and squares and completely fell in love with both cities.  If anyone offered us jobs there, we’d be hard-pressed to say no!

What we did

(When I didn’t have a cello in my hand)

Charleston:

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Walked along the Battery and zig-zagged through the neighborhoods south of Broad street.  These houses are amazing and the window boxes!  Must be steep competition around these parts, but that’s good for the rest of us!

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window boxes in charleston

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The Pink House-built out of Bermuda Limestone, and the oldest house in Charleston!

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Rainbow Row, Charleston

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window boxes in Charleston

Middleton Place Plantation.  This place is enormous, and I would recommend having at least a couple of hours there to wander around and not feel rushed.  There are plenty of little benches and areas to sit and have a picnic, though I wouldn’t recommend the butterfly lakes as a picnic spot ‘cause there are alligators walking around in the grass. Little ones, well–at least they were little last week–fair warning for anyone who goes there 6 months from now! They (the Middleton Place people, not the alligators) give you a little map with a self-guided walking trail around the property and there are little numbered markers throughout so you can read about what everything is.  Don’t miss the stable area with the horses, sheep, cows, chickens, rabbits, etc.  They are very sweet.

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Middleton Place

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Fort Sumpter.  Where the Civil War started.  There is a great museum in Charleston-at the end of Calhoun street, and then you take the ferry over to the fort where there is another (different-and also great) museum, and you can walk around the grounds.  I learned a lot of things that I probably learned in 6th grade, but had forgotten.  Tell me again why I didn’t take US History in High School? Hmmmm.

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(Side note: as soon as we got of the ferry, it started to rain a bit.  P and I figured it wasn’t too bad and we started walking over to 167 Raw–about a 10 minute walk–but the the drizzle turned into a monsoon, and there is NO SHELTER over there-nowhere to hide.  The streets flooded, we were soaked to the bone, and of course, no one inside of Raw 167 was going to leave, so there we were—no room at the inn—and finally found shelter a few blocks down at Cane, which is a super fun rum bar.  Dark and Stormies were ordered, and we sat by the fake fireplace and pretended to dry off.)

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Our Shelter in a Storm. Skip the food, drink all the rum.

Savannah:

I was so charmed by the city of Savannah!  It’s small and quaint, and has a wider variety of Architectural styles than Charleston, so there was a lot to look at and drool over.  The main “downtown” section of the city is dotted with little squares every few blocks and everywhere you went, you’d see people sitting on a bench with a friend having a bite to eat or sipping a coffee.  It was all very fun and civilized.  We spent all of our free time walking around the squares, Forsyth park, the river front, shopping on Boughton Street, so many cafes there!  Bonaventure Cemetery was beautiful too.

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E. Shaver Booksellers. Hands down the best bookstore I have seen. Lounging cats, sofas, nooks to settle in with a book, a tea shop, what more could you want?

Other than that, I was pretty busy with concerts and school visits.  Friday, I went to College of Charleston and met with Natalia Khoma, Tchaikovsky Competition winner, and the cello teacher over there.  She introduced me to some of the faculty, I got to hear some of her wonderful students play for me, and she gave me a tour of the campus.

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in front of the Arts Center at College of Charleston

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With Natalia Khoma and her student, Maria Savalyeva

Monday, we drove up to Columbia, S.C. where I was a guest on Sonatas and Soundscapes, on South Carolina Public Radio’s Classical Station.

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With Bradley Fuller, host of Sonatas and Soundscapes

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In front of the South Carolina Public Radio Building

Tuesday and Wednesday, I did a two-day mini-residency at the Savannah Arts Academy.  I performed for them, and got to work with the orchestra and with some of the cellists.  What an amazing school!  I had so much fun working with everyone there.  The kids were kind, warm, welcoming, curious and funny.  There is a lot of talent in Savannah, GA!

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Some of the Savannah Arts Academy Orchestra

Concerts:

It is always such a fun experience to play the same program multiple times in a week.  While I think I will always feel that adrenaline rush before I go on stage, doing it day after day (and sometimes multiple times a day) means that you stop doubting whether you can do it, and that whole “how does this piece start?” feeling goes away too (yessss!) I did a wide variety of performances over the week: from big featured recitals in gorgeous venues to private house concerts to outreach concerts in schools and assisted living homes.  One thing they all had in common, was that I was able to talk with each audience, share what I love about the pieces I was playing for them, and then talk with them individually after the concert.

Where we ate:

There are so many great restaurants in Charleston, and to be honest, it was a bit overwhelming. By the end of the week, our favorite thing to do was to grab a seat at the bar and order a glass of wine and an appetizer or two.  That way we could check out more than one place.  We were also prone to having a dinner of wine and cheese over at Bin 152 because it’s our most favorite place in the world.  Huge selection, with a knowledgeable and friendly staff and delicious cheese.  ALSO: they actually give you an appropriate amount of bread to serve with the cheese you ordered because I don’t get why other places hand you a platter of cheese with 3 tiny little toasted crisps.

Charleston:

Basic Kitchen

McCrady’s Tavern

S.N.OB. (Slightly North of Broad)

Husk

Bin 152

Caviar and Bananas

Rise

Black Tap Coffee

Savannah:

Hitch

The Collins Quarter

Foxy Loxy/Coffee Fox

Perc Coffee Roasters

All in all, it was a fantastic trip, and I am excited to be going back to both cities for more concerts next season.  Let me know if you try any of these restaurants, or if you find new ones to add to the list!

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Me and Cello at Husk after my last performance in Charleston. Feeling so grateful for all of it.

The Secret to Having Discipline (also known as fake it ’till ya make it)

Growing up in the world of classical music, my life revolved around that word: Discipline.  The fact that I needed it, whether or not I had it, my peers who obviously did have it, those sad, talented kids who just didn’t have it (“what a shame!”….) Every day of my life was measured in how many hours I had managed to get myself to practice.  Did I manage 3? Or an epic, I-can-totally-hang-with-the-cool-crowd 5? Or did I sit on the couch and watch bad re-runs on TV while eating countless bowls of cheerios?  In high school, I was surrounded by an incredible group of like-minded, talented friends.  they were fiercely loyal, but also fiercely competitive.  Any practicing my lazy-ass self ever did during that time in my life was purely to keep up with them.  In college, I discovered that I had cultivated a bit of street cred for my ability to get up super early (I mean, 6 am–IN COLLEGE!  I deserved a medal!) and get my practicing done.  But even that was a matter of pride, rather than discipline.  Once people started talking about the fact that I did it, I couldn’t very well STOP doing it, right?  After college I went to the New World Symphony in Miami Beach for 3 years, and discovered other reasons to practice that had nothing to do with discipline.  Ex. A) wanting to stay on the same work schedule as my ÜBER disciplined boyfriend. Ex B) knowing that if I practiced BEFORE our 10am rehearsal, the Music Director (my boss) would sit and chat with me while I had my coffee outside the hall.

 

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And so, it wasn’t until I moved back to Boston and shared my first grown-up apartment with a non-musician friend that I learned of the true nature of discipline.  Continue reading

Chicago!

Remember that little trip to Chicago I took in October?  It was just last week, but it feels like it was a gazillion years ago!  It was exciting, exhausting, exhilarating, and everything you would expect.  Overall, my experiment of going to a city and playing as many concerts as I could for as many different groups of people as possible worked.  I learned a hella lotta stuff about the whole process of sending press releases, booking concerts and venues and more importantly, I learned a lot about myself and what I need in terms of concert prep. 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?

business cards

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.

 

What I do All Day

There are two questions I am often asked by my non-musician friends and family:

The first, is a general, “So….what, exactly, do you do all day?”.  When I tell them I practice, they look at me kind of funny.

But then when they see me perform, they inevitably ask the 2nd question: “How do you know where all of the notes are going to be?”.   I’d love to simply refer them to the answer to my first question, but that would seem rude.  I’m not offended, I swear.  I get it, what I do is really strange.  I spend hours alone in a room with the door shut “practicing”–whatever that means, and then I perform.  Actors have their fellow cast members.  They go to rehearsal, they interact.  There is a clear process of learning and memorizing lines and stage direction that the common person understands.  Athletes?  They work either with the rest of their team, or if it is a solo sport, they at least work with a coach.  They do drills, they discuss their technique, how to improve. They can measure their progress through speed and distance.  But a musician?  Hmm. Weird.  So, here it is: A day in the life of a musician.  Or at least the practice room part of it.  Continue reading