Wednesday, February 5, 2020

You Will Survive Your College Auditions

This is a revamped repeat from last year, but it's one of my more popular posts and I suspect it stil holds true. As I welcome myriad frightened flutists into my office for their auditions at UW this month, I am reminded of what a daunting, earth-shattering process it can feel like for you. I even vaguely remember going through it myself! And if I could go back in time and give my uptight 17-year-old self some advice, here's what I'd say:

  • You'll end up where you should be. And if it's not your number one school, it's not going to ruin your life. So do your best, and prepare like a fiend, but don't give a mere school other-worldly powers to decide your fate for the next 70 years. You will be FINE.

  • Touch base with prospective teachers early to schedule a lesson.  You need to be with someone whose playing and teaching styles you admire and who you trust to be a reliable mentor. And teachers are looking for a good fit, as well. Get to know them, and let them get to know you. 

(For help writing that introductory email to prospective teachers, read this.)

  • Teachers don't want you to suck up and be fake, but we do want to know how interested you are. We really only have one chance to get the scholarship assignments right, and we want to spend those precious dollars helping to support the students who really want to be at our school. So don't be shy--tell us if you really need financial assistance (politely, of course).  That's helpful to know.

  • Conversely, we all know everyone's got a "safety school" or two, and if we're on that list, no need to make it really obvious (examples include emailing the teacher to ask about an alternative scholarship date because you're prioritizing another school's audition schedule or sharing who's accepted you so far when you show up to our audition.)

  • Really try your best to give a live audition. You need to meet the teacher, the current students, experience the campus and some music short, get a sense of what it would feel like to be a student there.  And it's another way to express your level of interest, regarding my previous tip (ahem).

(If you must send a recording, here are my tips for capturing your best.)

  • Working within any specific audition requirements, present a program that highlights your strengths, not your weaknesses.  Not quite ready to kick butt on the Chaminade? Don't play it! Pick pieces you can play beautifully in your sleep (and hopefully you've been training with that standard in mind).

  • Be flexible. You might play alone for a teacher in her office at one school and for the entire woodwind faculty in the auditorium at the next.  You may play all of your program or a very short portion of it. And if a teacher is particularly interested in hearing what you can do, she may ask you to try something again in a different way.  That's a good sign, so try to enjoy the mini-lesson and give your best! 

I also love this post from Dr. Bret Pimentel, Delta State University woodwinds professor, about auditioning: What I Listen For in Scholarship Auditions. Read it and be inspired!

Good luck to you all this audition season, and do your best to enjoy the process! 

Friday, January 24, 2020

Taking care of yourself this winter

I just got back from an exhilarating four days on Long Island, where I was part of the team that hosted Flute New Music Consortium's New Music Festival at Stony Brook University. I don't know if it was the stress of the festival, the lack of sleep and poor eating habits while I was there, all the time spent walking around campus in the bitter cold and gale force (really!) winds and sitting on trains and planes, or just because it's winter, but now that I'm home I am S-I-C-K. Like, almost Coronavirus level. And I am now remembering just what an inconvenience illness is when you do something as physical as playing the flute for a living. So, whether your illnesses are weather-related, stress-related, or come from filthy people invading your personal space, some thoughts on how to get through it when you're past the point of prevention:

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Think of this as prevention AND remedy. Herbal tea or just hot water might be more comforting than cold water if you've got chills, drainage, or a sore throat. (I am drinking hot water all day now.)

Invest in a personal humidifier or vaporizer.  The more moisture you can add to your immediate environment the better.

I'm not going to tell anyone what drugs to use, but find a decent decongestant, pain killer, and cough suppressant that you can live with.  I avoid drugs whenever possible, but now is not the time to be a hero if you've got concerts coming up.

Be a baby.  Sleep, lay around binging on Netflix, do what you've got to do to conserve energy and let your body heal. A couple days of missed lessons is less expensive in the long run than a lingering cough that hangs you up for a month.

Staying in shape on your flute: probably not totally going to happen, but there are a couple things you can do so the transition back to playing isn't as painful. Whistle tones will give your embouchure something to remember when you can't spare the air speed to play fully without having a coughing fit. And if you have a lot of notes coming up, you can always practicing the "typing" without blowing into the flute.  Play along with a recording if you're up to speed, or woodshed with the metronome on the body of the flute.

Once you get back into practicing, you may have to rebuild lung capacity (I always have to).  Moyse De La Sonorite, pp. 10-14 are a brutal but very helpful boot camp.

Take care of yourselves this winter! But failing that, know it's temporary, and baby it so you can get back in the saddle as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Avoiding burnout this holiday season

Happy Gigmas, everyone! December is blessedly busy for musicians; I say "blessedly" because we need the cash.  And we all know that this full calendar is temporary, so we tend to say "yes" to every extra holiday gig that comes our way in order to make up for January's blight.

But that can make us super crazy by the time New Year's rolls around. 

The need to gig is real, so I'm not going to preach (too much) the virtues of taking time off, meditating for 30 minutes a day, and other things we can't afford to do.  But I do have some suggestions to get through December...

1. Start every day with structure.

The busier you are, the harder it is to maintain a feeling of control. But control eases anxiety, so you want to keep proving to yourself every day that you've got some.

If you open emails, texts and social media first thing in the morning, you've opened up your life to everyone else's energy and opinions. Once this happens your own mission and focus become diffused.

Start with a morning ritual that works for you and is easy to accomplish. For instance, if you like to meditate, read or work out in the morning, have everything you need ready the night before. And remember, your morning routine is not someone else's. Do what's right for you.

I always find it is helpful to set an intention for your day. If you crave a morning warm-up routine (I do), schedule it into your day and insist upon it. If you need to get up earlier in the morning, or skip some non-essential task (that's a personal decision), do it.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness references morning routines to avoid burnout and support productivity. "When first starting the day, it's important to avoid 'decision fatigue' by having a set morning routine."

2. Focus your thoughts

What you focus on grows. So, if your focus is on everything that is not working, you can expect those things to expand in your life and stress you out. Focus on what is working, then reboot the places that need attention. Similarly, if you spend all of your time focusing on how tired you are, how many more Nutcracker performances you have to get through, etc...well, you know.

I find it helpful to write down what I want to accomplish by the week. This allows clarity and keeps me from having to remember everything. It also keeps me from focusing solely on the (sometimes negative) minutiae of getting through each busy day, so that I'm not neglecting longer-term projects I need to accomplish (like updating syllabi for my adjunct teaching, etc.) And the bonus is that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

3. Stay out of the how

How is an exhausting word for most people. When you ask how, you'll feel a rush of anxiety going through your system that sets you off in many different scenarios and opens loops. For instance, "how am I going to get this all done?" is quite a daunting question.This is a recipe for burnout.

Instead of how, ask yourself, what needs to happen next? This puts your brain in solution mode. Make a list, and then prioritize. Where there is a problem, there is a solution.

Asking questions around next required actions will keep your brain focused on a solution map rather than spinning worry, which creates burnout.

4. Remember the 2/3 rule

Is it too late in the season to say this? There are three general gains you can make by saying yes to a gig: music, people, and money.  To elaborate, the music might be so inspiring that you just have to say yes. The people might either be really great to work with or really great for making connections in order to network in the community--you decide what's important to you there. And the money...I don't need to explain that, do I? So, if 2 of the 3 categories are fulfilled, you can probably rest assured you'll be glad you did the gig. You can decide to do a gig for just one of those categories, and people often do, but know that it's your choice to make. And if the calendar's filling up, it might be wise to insist on 2/3.

5. Avoid comparison and judging.

Somehow, even when w're at our busiest, we manage to covet others' work, perceived prestige, accomplishments, etc. Seeing other freelancers more during this season can dredge up all those competitive feelings, along with the unwelcome humble brags. But when we compare ourselves to other musicians, we'll likely do one of two things: think negative thoughts about them or think negative thoughts about ourselves. This creates a boomerang of low vibe energy and throws emotions into a downward spiral.

Two thoughts here: the grass always seems greener, but that other musician you envy may feel like she's drowning right now. She may even envy you! And focusing on your fantasies of inadequacy are not helping you get though the here and now: "negative self talk is the No. 1 barrier to success."

You can avoid deprecating self talk by lifting others up. Be excited for those doing well. You're building a career in a system that thrives on all musicians doing well.

Once you understand there's a never-ending amount of support and creativity, you'll feel inspired by those who do well and drop the competition.

In the long term, you may find burnout creeping in for reasons other than the PTSD "Sleigh Ride" is causing you (like, "what am I doing with my life ?" sort of stuff). If that's the case, I encourage you to read these two excellent blogs by Clarinet Jenny and Dr. Jessica Quinones, International Flautist.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Tips for college audition season

Applications to study here at UW are flying in right now, and I know that some of these unfamiliar names in the database are about to become members of the Wyoming flute family. It is so surreal to me! We will go from being awkward strangers (yes, I feel awkward at these auditions, too) to developing lifelong relationships in the span of two, four, or maybe five years. Isn't that crazy? 

Students have a lot of decisions to make, as do their prospective teachers: is this a good fit musically, personally, professionally? I have written some posts in the past about this and don't really have anything new to add just yet, but thought I would share them again in hopes that something here may be of some comfort as students make the Big Decision in the coming months. 

Good luck to everyone this audition season!

What can you do with a music degree?

Choosing the right college for you

And if you think University of Wyoming might be a good fit for you, read more about the program here. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Basics for sonic control

There are many ways to describe how to play the flute, but there are some core principals which must be maintained in any description. Whenever I travel around the country giving master classes (as I have recently done) or begin working with prospective students in their auditions at UW (and it's definitely that season), I am reminded of how confused these basics can become in eager young students' minds. And so, for what it's worth, here are my simplest descriptions, meant to be varied and elaborated to suit each individual student's needs:

Resonant space: At all times, you can remain open and relaxed in these areas: chest, throat, jaw, tongue (down and relaxed when slurring, only raising the tip for articulation).

Air flow: Avoid holding tension in the abs or other areas of the torso and back so that you can "fill the container" completely upon inhalation. Imagine your entire torso and back and a large container with stretchy walls when you fill up, then hold those container walls firm (but not tense) as you evenly disperse air.

Embouchure: If air is flowing generously and your resonant space is open (see above), your only other job is to gently guide the air stream with the lips, or embouchure. Playing the flute should be like speaking--we do not hold a rigid, fixed position with the embouchure, but maintain flexible, movable lips for maximum efficiency of aim on the headjoint. 

The rest is air direction, and this can be practiced on the brilliant Pneumo-Pro, found here, or simply by blowing up and down on the hand in a straight line, from wrist to finger tips. When you are blowing towards the top of your hand, or trying to hit the top fan on the Pneumo-Pro, your bottom jaw pushes forward, which aims the lips forward and more across the hole. You can also think of the syllable "ooo". Conversely, as you work your way downward, to your wrist or the bottom fan on the Pneumo-Pro, your bottom jaw drops down and back, causing you to aim more air down into the headjoint. You can think of saying the syllable "aw".

By blowing higher ("ooo", or lips/jaw forward), you can accomplish the following:

  • playing higher notes in the range
  • playing quietly
  • raising pitch

By blowing lower ("aw", lips/jaw pointing down), you can accomplish the following:

  • playing lower notes in the range
  • playing loudly
  • lowering pitch
For some ideas on developing a well-rounded tone workout, read my previous blog posts,