Monday, January 21, 2019

College auditions, from a professor's perspective

Most of you lucky class of 2019ers will be taking your college entrance auditions this starting month and going into early March. As I welcome myriad frightened flutists into my office for this process every Friday in February at UW, 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! 

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

UWYO flutes having a serious moment together on campus. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

New Year, New Projects!

Image result for new years eve party vintage image

Every year I swear I won't fall into the trap of making a new year's resolution I either a)can't keep b)don't care enough about or c)find no challenge in keeping. But then the frenzy of self-improvement articles comes out on January 1 and I get sucked right back in, and you know what? I'm not going to apologize. Constant growth is what we're all about in classical music, so it makes sense to me. How boring to just keep droning on with the same old habits and tasks without end!

I also have the advantage of an almost completely empty January, between the lack of gigs (fine by me after December!) and University of Wyoming's very late start date, making this the perfect time to reflect on my accomplishments from last year and dream up something big for 2019 (or maybe more than one something). Even if you only have a weekend off,  I hope that you will, too, and undertake this exercise with a positive spirit and the knowledge that you are improving upon past deficiencies every day for your entire life.

If you already have a Big Project in mind, you're lucky!  Now all you have to do is devise a step-by-step plan for tackling the details and go fearlessly forward. But what if you're still searching for the inspiration to develop that brilliant creative idea? Some things help me when I'm stuck, and hopefully you can choose what works for you from this list to get unstuck, too.

Listen to Yourself. You may not have an idea of what you'd like to do next because you're burned out, exhausted, or just not currently inspired.  Don't force it. Your brain needs a break now and then, and you want the idea that finally comes (it will) to be truly organic and meaningful or it's not likely to be successful, anyway.  So, just wait.  Binge watch some Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, cook a bunch of soups and casseroles, rearrange the furniture, whatever feels satisfying right now. When you start getting bored, you'll know your brain is about to kick back into creative mode.

Reflect. Ideas don't come fully formed--at least, they certainly don't for me! They occur in bits and pieces, beginning with personal interests and usually morphing into the solution to a problem.  That's just me; I can clearly see at this point in my life that most of the projects I develop are heavily service-oriented in some way.  What is it for you? Reflect on old projects you loved (whether or not they were successful at the time) and look for a theme.  What do you offer as an artist/teacher/organizer/etc.? Get to know yourself through your past work.

Take Notes. I still find myself returning to physically writing on pieces of paper or a beautiful journal, but you can do this on your phone, tablet, or laptop, too. Scribble down any ideas you have, and just take your time collecting these seemingly random thoughts for your chosen period of a time: a week? two weeks? Again, don't force it. Then step back and look for patterns and commonalities. Slowly, you are creating a flow chart for your next Big Project.

Take a Walk.  When you're surrounded by notes, all of your electronic devices, and you feel ready to burst from being so close yet so far from a coherent thought, push away from the desk and MOVE. I love to bundle up on these cold, clear days in January and enjoy the silence of a midday walk in my neighborhood park when everyone else is at work, school, or curled up under a blanket inside. My brain might feel muddy, filled with swirling, confusing thoughts, but as I walk, things start to organize themselves and I return with a clearer idea of what to do next.  Or at least a renewed sense of energy for the next round of brainstorming!

Google It. You can't just recreate what someone else has done--you need an element of uniqueness to your design if it's going to succeed at all. Whether it's the title for your new ensemble, the programming for a propose album, the existence of current technique books for your instrument, scour the internet to make sure you're not just reinventing the wheel.  And if you are, be glad you found out early and tweak your model to make it special to you and your perceived community.

Of course, you don't have to undertake a Big Project at all; you can undoubtedly fill your days with practice, teaching, going to work, or whatever has to get done by 5pm every day.  But the Big Project feeds your creative needs and allows you to interact with the world in a positive way on your own terms. It could be as simple as performing a recital in your community (well, that's not simple!) or as huge as starting a community music school in your town. And the size and scope of your project will dictate how long you spend developing every detail to make it happen. What you dream up this year might even become the most distinguishing work of your career. So, give it a go! And I'd love to hear what you're all working on if you feel like sharing; just comment below!