Saturday, January 23, 2021

Making the Most of This Year's Virtual Auditions

 College auditions have universally moved to online platforms this year as we ride out the pandemic. This presents challenges for everyone involved, but being mindful of what adjustments you need to make, and how your actions will affect the audition committee, can help to make things go as smoothly as possible in this "new normal".  Incidentally, I predict we'll be seeing a lot more virtual auditions in future years as it alleviates financial woes related to travel and scheduling challenges for schools, so keep these tips in your back pocket for the future, too. 

For pre-recorded auditions:

Read my post on making a decent recording with home equipment here

Upload video (or audio) onto a ubiquitous platform, either You Tube, Google Drive or Dropbox. 

On You Tube, you can set your videos to "unlisted" so they can't be found by the general public. "Private" does not allow anyone but you to view, so avoid this setting! 

For Google or Dropbox, make videos playable from the program; when faculty members are required to download videos, they become easily aggrieved. 

Large files (HD video, .wav sound) are cumbersome and don't improve sound much.  We are listening on our laptops, so go ahead and upload compressed files for ease of uploading (for you) and playability (for us).

Carefully label each file with your name. In a sea of recordings, we may not remember who sent what. 

Check all links before sending! We may or may not take the time to track you down and ask you to resend materials that don't work. 

For virtual live auditions:

Do everything to ensure your connection is strong: close all other windows on your browser, and if you're at home, ask family or roommates to support you by not using streaming services or other bandwidth-greedy activities during your audition. 

Turn off all sound notifications.  They distract us all. 

Use the most robust equipment you can get your hands on. A laptop and, if you've got it, a USB mic are ideal.  Your phone is not a good option, but an iPad might be alright. Do a test run by Zooming a friend or your private teacher beforehand to check sound quality.

Make sure sound settings in the app are ideal; for Zoom, you can turn off mic attenuation and choose "original sound" to allow more dynamics to come through. 

Dress nicely and choose a tidy backdrop (i.e., hide your dirty clothes under the bed). It's a good-faith show of effort and we appreciate it. 

I worry that, without seeing campus, it's particularly difficult to imagine yourself at a school, let alone being comfortable committing to moving across the country to attend in the fall. Many universities have pretty impressive virtual campus tours on their websites that will help you get a feel for campus. But more importantly, you want to get to know the music department you'll potentially be joining. Ask for contact information for a couple of current students in the studio so you can ask them questions from a student's perspective. Attend all online meetings or class observations related to audition days, or see if the studio teacher would let you join a virtual studio class to get to know the studio a little bit. 

And as always, make the most of your time interacting with any prospective teacher, whether over email or in your Zoom audition. You're choosing a school based on how much you think you can learn from the teacher and what it will be like to join that particular musical community, so look for every clue you can! 

Good luck to all of you who are auditioning in this decidedly strange year. I am confident that you can still find the right fit despite our current isolation, and I also look forward to a more open, in-person fall 2021!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Announcing the 2021 Virtual Wyoming Summer Flute Intensive!


Wyoming Summer Flute Intensive 2021: Virtual Edition

June 29-July 2, 2021


Dr. Nicole Riner, flute professor at University of Wyoming

Dr. Brittany Trotter, flute instructor at Dickinson College and West Virginia Wesleyan College

Lucas Regnell, BME student at University of Wyoming



TENTATIVE SCHEDULE (all times listed as MDT, subject to enrollment):


“360⁰ Flutist”: Developing a complete daily routine for maximum control of technique and all aspects of sound production. Includes group playing, material modified each day for further development. (Riner)

“Field Guide to Extended Techniques for Beginners”: Learn how to execute and practice all of the most standard extended techniques in modern literature, including some basics of beat boxing, and incorporate them into simple melodies. Includes group playing. (Riner)

"Mindset": Based on Carol Dweck's groundbreaking research in her book, Mindset, this interactive workshop explores how musicians can overcome their fears to embrace challenges in their musical and career development and thrive as well-rounded musicians. (Regnell) *This class is free and open to the public; email for link.

"Tone & Technique Development Through Modern Interpretation for the Flute (and other wind instrument)": In this interactive workshop, we will study expression, vibrato, color, and articulation and their application to creating a robust tone using melodies and break beats from popular modern songs featured on Tik Tok. Be ready to play! (Trotter)

Lessons and Master Classes will be taught by Dr. Riner and Dr. Trotter.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Supporting Artists in the New Year

Since the pandemic began to rage here in the U.S., we've repeatedly heard doomsday predictions of the arts world collapsing. I don't mean to sound cynical; the lack of gigs right now across all arts communities is daunting, and even what were once considered stable fields like public school teaching and academia are shrinking. 

Like everyone, I've spent a lot of extra time online since March, and it has allowed me to discover some amazing composers and performers I never knew existed, all working in solitude, obscurity, and I assume, some level of poverty, from their tiny corners of the country. I'm including some of their names and websites here, and invite you to add to this list in the comments section of this blog or whatever social media platform you're reading this on. 

So my advice in 2021 is to get out of your bubbles, discover new inspirations, and most importantly, spend your money! For every artist you've streamed on Spotify more than five times this year, you can certainly find something of theirs on Bandcamp to purchase. If visual art, theater, or dance are more your thing, find your platforms and do the same. It feels good to give, and it's absolutely invigorating to hear (or see, or read) the amazing new works being created all around you. 

Years ago, a colleague once gave me the advice not to purchase tickets for other colleagues' events, because the general public should be doing that; she felt put-upon, I guess, to "have" to support her colleagues as a fellow musician. But I can think of no better way to spend my money, especially now that I'm saving so much on gas for my now inert car. 

(Feel like digging deeper after some listening? Check out my guide to commissioning here.)

Here's to a better year!

Andrew Austin (my favorite is Toy Soldiers):

Yvonne Freckman:

Brittany Green:

Yunfei Li:

Zachery Meier:

Daniel Sabzghabaei:

Yoshi Weinberg:

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Help Prepping your Performance Videos, Part 2!

Hey there, all you budding online teachers and music students! 

Earlier in the semester, I posted with some basic advice for navigating the world of making live performance videos. In that essay, I discussed appearance, controlling for sound variables, and gave a quick review of equipment; you can read it here

Today I'd like to cover what happens after you make your video--namely, editing, converting files to different formats, and uploading to platforms. We're requiring our woodwind juries here at University of Wyoming to be recorded and uploaded for faculty comment this semester, and I imagine a lot of other schools around the country are doing something similar. 


Tom's Guide shared a review of his favorites earlier this year, which you can find here. I can say that I find VSDC (available for Windows only) to be pretty intuitive and quick to navigate. 

As always, check to see if each program is compatible with your OS.

Converting Files:

This can be done in your editing program (and you don't actually have to edit anything first--just upload your file and convert). But if you aren't using editing software, there are also multiple free, online programs that allow you to upload both audio and video files and convert formats. Just remember that you can't convert from a compressed format to an expanded one; you cannot add information you didn't originally include in your recording. So, this is really for compressing HD video, WAV (lossless) audio files, etc. that are just too large to upload onto your platform. The have really original names like

Online Video Converter:

Cloud Convert:

Video to Edit:

Simply upload, choose your preferred format (mp4 is a pretty safe way to go when in doubt), and then download your new, lightweight video when finished. Depending on the size of your original file, it's a pretty fast and painless process. 

Uploading to Platforms: 

YouTube might be the most ubiquitous platform for performing and teaching videos. It's clunky and slow, and they can throw in advertising wherever they want afterwards, but everyone knows it exists. You can also choose to make your video public or unlisted, which only allows users who have the link to watch. There is some light editing software in the Beta stage currently built in to this platform as well. Here's how to get started.

Google Drive also works reasonably well for sharing videos to specific people, and you can set various levels of permissions to allow editors, viewers, or simply invite people upload without viewing anything else in the file. Here's how to get started

Finally, people are still using Dropbox, which means you may be required to use it yourself someday.  Think academic interviews, ensemble auditions, etc. Free storage is somewhat limited and upload times are slower than G-Drive, but it was pretty popular in the early 00s, so... Here's how to get started.

And by the way, please notice that I have largely aggregated links here for you; if you don't find what you need here, I strongly encourage you to simply do a search on what you need to do. You, too, can be a graduate of Google University with very little effort.

; )

Best of luck to everyone on their final performances for the semester, and kudos to all of you creating fresh new material to share with the community!

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Making a performance-level live video

 Videos and Zoom classes have become the norm in these crazed, pandemic days, and I think it's fair to say we're all suffering from more than a little burnout. But when you're posting something for public consumption (and unavoidably, evaluation), you still need to put your best self forward. Videos intended to look professional should have very little in common with the clips you whip up on Instagram in a matter of minutes. And so, as we near honor band auditions, end-of-semester juries, and winter entrance auditions to college and graduate school, a simple checklist may help:

How do I look? Fabulous, I'm sure, but let's make sure it looks like you tried, as well. 

  • Find a room that looks and sounds good. A school performance hall or rehearsal room could do the trick (clear out any stray chairs and stands from the shot). If you're stuck at home, prioritize scheduling a time in a neat, welcoming environment like a tidy living room or blank wall.
  • Dress the part. If this performance was being given in the concert hall, how would you dress? Do the same here (pandemic bonus: shoes optional). 
  • Make sure lighting is bright and you are easy to see. Eliminate any shadows on your face. Record some sample playing and check it before proceeding. 
  • Are you fully in the shot? Plan on getting a shot from the waist up so that we can see posture, hand position, embouchure, breathing, and the entire instrument. That means backing away from your recording device. And face the camera head-on, as you would if you were on stage.

How do I sound? This can be trickier depending on the facilities you have access to, but you can at least make sure you've done your best with what you have.

  • Do a sound check and listen back right away. Don't quit doing these until microphone levels and acoustics are the best you can make them. 
  • Eliminate all extraneous noise--close windows, remove barking dogs, etc.
  • When you think you have the recording you like, listen right away, both with headphones and without. Avoid the temptation to settle for "good enough" if you hear things you can fix, like feedback, muted sound, or other clarity issues. 
  • Take the time to do some simple editing so that the video begins and ends with you at the stand. Reaching over and hitting "stop" in the video is fine for Instagram, but clean it up for prime time.

Remember, you are performing. Short of bowing, you should look mostly the same as you do on stage:

  • Smile and look into the camera before and after your performance.
  • Announce yourself, the name of your piece, and the composer before you play.

If you're lucky enough to be able to shop for equipment, check out my basic recording gear guide from a previous post. 

If you're using your laptop mic, be sure to go into settings and turn off attenuation and set levels before you get started. 

And finally, like any type of recording that you want to be proud to share, schedule enough time to do these things without rushing. Cutting corners in any of these areas will result in a flawed final product that doesn't represent your best. You've practiced diligently leading up to this recording session, so capture a video that proves it! 

Now get out there and be fabulous!