Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and it's the perfect time to be grateful for the teachers in your life. Our teachers do a great deal to shape who we are as musicians and to help us get where we want to go. They use their free time and resources to help us because they believe in the value of educating the next generation.
But it's not only private teachers who help to mold you into the musician you are. Band directors, music theory and history teachers, and performers who visit your school to give a masterclass can be equally (or more) influential. Chamber coaches and teachers of other instruments often have valuable insight to give, too.
This gratitude also rightfully extends to teachers who work outside of the field of music. Be thankful for teachers of other subjects who let you miss class for a band lesson or let you make up classwork you missed because you were playing in a music festival. This is inconvenient for them but they recognize the value of music in the lives of their students.
Learning music is an apprenticeship, and we would lose this amazing tradition if not for the tireless work of those who come before and show us the way.
This post is dedicated to all my teachers, especially the four flute teachers I have worked with in my career: Cynthia Livingston, Berta Frank, Kenneth Andrews, and Vanessa Mulvey.
I'm writing a workbook version of my Conservatory Boot Camp program! It will include the same basic information presented in the full program, but in a self-guided format. Each chapter includes worksheets, activities, and helpful information. Among other things, this book will teach you how to:
There will also be the option to participate in Online Boot Camp! Receive detailed feedback from me (via email) about your work in each chapter of the workbook.
The book will be available for purchase as a PDF download in early 2014. Sample pages to come soon!
We're getting into cold and flu season, which raises the question: how do you practice when you're too sick to play?
1.) Dig into your music and do some analysis. You don't have to be a theory wizard to do this; start by finding the skeleton. Analysis tends to fall by the wayside during personal practice, so take advantage of the fact that you aren't able to play and instead use your time to deconstruct your repertoire.
2.) Do some research! Educate yourself about the composers you're playing. See where they fall in music history, and if anything about their lives affected their works. Also, look up all the musical terms they used in the pieces you're playing, and make sure you know exactly what they mean.
3.) Listen to recordings of your repertoire. Check out performers on YouTube and iTunes. See how famous musicians play a certain piece, and also how amateurs and relatively unknown performers play it. You can learn a lot from both types of players; listen for what you like about their interpretation as well as what you would do differently. If you're working on a large ensemble piece, see if imslp.org has a full score available and follow along as you listen.
4.) Spend some time focusing on your technique. Work through tough passages silently (without blowing air through your instrument) so you can save your strength but still improve your finger work. Try changing the rhythms; see my earlier post about opposite practice for examples.
5.) If you haven't spent much time learning about music theory and music history, now is a good chance! Teach Me About Music is an interactive site with learning units covering medieval music up through present day. Teoria has music theory tutorials as well as ear training activities. Both sites make these subjects fun and engaging.
Being sick is no fun, but it doesn't have to interfere with your musical progress. Happy practicing and stay healthy!
There aren't enough orchestras or full-time teaching gigs in the world to accommodate the deluge of new graduates that leave music schools every year.
It's not enough to get your undergraduate degree anymore.
It's not even really enough to get an advanced degree.
And it's definitely not enough to simply bill yourself as a performer and leave it at that. There are many people who try this method, and they usually find themselves in a perpetual job search. You have to be more interesting than that. You need a hook.
Are you good at teaching? Do some masterclasses at local schools or teach private lessons. Do you like to write? Start a blog or write a book. (Make it an ebook to cut down on start-up cost.) If your heart is set on making a name for yourself via performance alone, collaborate and form chamber groups. Chamber music is a great way to be an active and versatile performer while retaining creative control; you choose the repertoire and the gigs, so you get to show the audience your personal style. Having several groups will keep things interesting for you and prevent burnout on a particular piece or style of music.
Regardless of the path you choose, advertising is key! Make a website and a Facebook page for whatever you're offering the world, whether it's performance services, lessons, or your blog. Weebly, Wix, and WordPress are some good choices for building a website; they all offer free versions as well as the option to upgrade to a paid account with more features.
Google AdWords and Facebook ads are two user-friendly ad services that can help you get your name out there without spending a ton of money. I've used both of these to great effect. Even a small advertising campaign can make a big difference in your online impact.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this: while you might know that you're a special, gifted, and brilliant performer, to the general population you're just another musician on the job boards. Find your way to stand out or prepare to be lost in the crowd.
Audition anxiety sometimes stems from the feeling that you have little control over what will happen once you start to play. The fear that one little thing will go wrong and ruin everything is powerful and distracting.
But auditions are not something that just happen to you; they're something that you go out into the world and do. I've found that the auditions where I did well were the ones where I felt like I had control over the situation. The ones where I was excited to share what I had prepared. The ones that I treated like a recital, where I imagined the audience enjoying my performance.
No competent jury is rooting for you to fail. No jury hopes you'll crack on the high note or miss your page turn. They want to be dazzled by you and hear something beautiful. They just want to see what you can do and to find someone who fits the position they're trying to fill.
You can't banish audition nerves by pretending they don't exist or by thinking you're a failure because you experience them. We have fire drills to prepare for the event of a fire; why not have jitters drills?
Try running up and down some stairs before you play your repertoire to mimic the effect that a racing, nervous heart will have on your breathing. Try playing through a cough/sneeze/nose itch to see if you can do it during crunch time. Try playing with minimal warmup time to see what will suffer if you don't have a lot of warmup time on audition day.
Think about all the ways that your nerves manifest physically, emotionally, and mentally, and see if you can find ways to replicate those in a safe, controlled environment. Practice experiencing those sensations and getting through your piece anyway. Practice it that way until all these wrenches you can throw in the machinery are no longer obstacles.
Try using this chart in your audition prep, and use the space at the bottom to include your own techniques! (Click to download):
We spend so much time practicing our music; why not practice the situation we'll play it in? When the physical and mental symptoms of audition anxiety become something we understand, they lose their power to derail a performance.
I've been around music my whole life. My father and mother sang to me at home, and my older brother was an active participant in school bands, community bands, and music festivals. I spent a lot of time listening to music and learning how to behave as an audience member. It was a part of life, no big deal.
But my first experience seeing a professional orchestra changed everything.
When I was about 12, my first private teacher took me to see the Vermont Symphony Orchestra perform live. I don't remember what they played, only that Karen Kevra, a celebrated flute teacher and performer based in Vermont, performed a concerto with the orchestra. This was the reason we were there; my teacher wanted me to hear what a professional flutist sounds like live.
I remember being literally on the edge of my seat. The venue was fairly small, so the wall of sound this orchestra produced just washed me away. I could not believe the range of sounds I was hearing, and how skilled the musicians were. To my young ears, this was a whole new world of experience. This was refuge from the well-intentioned but out-of-tune school ensembles I had been part of up until that point. I had found my tribe.
I pursued my flute study even harder after that concert, armed with the knowledge of how skilled someone can be at their instrument if they really work for it. A few years later, I was good enough to get into the Vermont Youth Orchestra. I had never played in an orchestra before, as my school didn't have a string program. I remember sitting in my chair and listening to all the string players warming up and being overwhelmed at my good fortune (and a little nervous, too).
And when we started playing for the first time, I was stunned.
I felt the sound of the neighboring cello section radiate through the floor and up my legs. Years later, I still remember that feeling. I began to realize what it's like to be a part of the texture, rather than just thinking about my own part, and that any large ensemble must be an organism to perform well. I discovered that there's more than just loud and soft; there are tone colors and nuances that make music interesting and wonderful.
This is why the arts are so important, and why finding your own passion, whether it's the arts or something completely different, is such a gift. That first experience, sitting in a darkened college auditorium and hearing the VSO, set me on fire and set my career path in motion. It gave me something to work toward and to be proud of. It gave me a sense of purpose, which is something that everyone deserves.
So my relationship with music has been like a marriage. We've been together for a long time. Although I love it, not every moment has been great; there have been many times, particularly during the high school-to-college transition, when I wondered if I should have chosen a more standard career path. But for me, the answer was always no. I'm in it for the long haul and happy to be here.
The beauty of a large ensemble lies in how everyone pulls together to create something. Everyone is important, even the percussionist buried in the back of the orchestra who has to wait through 100 measures of rest before his one triangle "ping."
Being a part of a large ensemble is an interesting dichotomy. While your individual thoughts about musical interpretation will always come second to the conductor's vision of a piece, you will be sorely missed indeed if you don't show up for rehearsal. You're part of a team.
That being said, here are the rules for being a good citizen in rehearsal:
Show up early. Pulling into the parking lot at 5:00 for a 5:00 rehearsal does not count as showing up on time. Assembling your instrument while the conductor tunes the ensemble does not count as showing up on time. Unless you're set up, warmed up, tuned, and in your chair before the conductor is ready to start rehearsal, you are late. Late arrivals waste everyone's time. A good rule of thumb is to get to your rehearsal venue at least 15 minutes before the scheduled start time.
Practice your part ahead of time. The point of rehearsal is to assemble everyone's parts into a whole. Rehearsal is not the time to work on individual challenges, like tricky technical passages. Also, practice counting through your rests, not just the parts where you play. Coming in at the wrong time because you never practicing counting through a multimeasure rest takes away from time that could be spent working on ensemble-related aspects of a piece.
No talking. There's no reason whatsoever to talk during rehearsal. Most questions can wait until the break, and talking during rehearsal is extremely rude.
Pay attention to the conductor. Be ready to play when he puts up his baton. Stop when he cuts you off. If he asks you to change something, change it. Large ensembles are not the venue for your individuality. Save it for solo recitals.
Stay engaged even when you aren't playing. If the conductor is working with another section, take note of what he says. If he wants the violins to play their melody with a certain articulation, you should use the same articulation when you have that melody. Don't waste time by making the conductor repeat himself.
Know the repertoire. This doesn't just mean knowing which pieces are on the program or how to pronounce composer names. Have a general idea of what's happening in each piece. Do you know when other instruments are playing the same line as you? Do you know what cues to listen for before your entrances? The piece is more than just your part.
And that's a beautiful thing.
Shelby Colgan: Can you tell us a little about what early music is?
Emily Davidson: We use the term "early music" to describe music from the Baroque (1600-1750) or earlier. Generally we're talking about Baroque, Renaissance, and Medieval music. Because so many of the instruments from these periods are uncommon in modern day, "early music" becomes a world of exploring and learning about old instruments and how to play them.
Early music specialists also immerse themselves in historical writings and treatises to learn about how these instruments were played and how the music was performed. Composers were far less explicit hundreds of years ago, so we have to do a certain amount of research just to grasp how a piece of music should be performed.
The easiest way to recognize early music is smaller orchestrations (usually less than 10 people) and unfamiliar instruments like harpsichord, viola da gamba, vielle, cornetto, lute, and many others.
SC: What makes the baroque cello different from the modern cello?
ED: The baroque cello was the first form of the cello. The cello we see in symphony orchestras today has evolved over hundreds of years to work better for more contemporary repertoire. The baroque cello was strung with gut strings (as opposed to steel), had no endpin, and a lighter bow with a different shape. The baroque cello was perfectly designed to play baroque repertoire, and I find that using these old replicas helps truly bring the music to life.
(You can watch Emily explain the difference below!)
SC: Was there a particular reason you chose to play the instruments that you do?
ED: I began strings in my public school in the 4th grade and chose the cello because it was "less screechy" than the violin and the viola. I didn't particularly enjoy it until the end of middle school. I began guitar in 3rd grade because my dad was a guitarist.
SC: Can you remember your first experience with music?
ED: My father was a composer and jazz guitarist, so I was exposed to music from a young age. In the first grade I asked my parents if I could take piano lessons, though that didn't last long; I found the lessons boring and tedious. In the third grade my dad taught me how to read chord charts on the guitar, and I immediately rushed to learn every Beatles song I could.
SC: What was your most memorable experience with a music teacher?
ED: My high school orchestra teacher was the teacher who encouraged me to take private lessons on the cello and essentially began my life as a cellist. She took our depressing, underdeveloped school orchestra and made it outstanding by restoring our technique, giving us exciting repertoire, and expecting a much higher standard from us.
SC: How has being a musician affected your everyday life? Has it changed how you view the world or interact with people?
ED: For one, I don't operate on the same 9-5 schedule as most of the world. I have much more freedom over my daily life since my work is a combination of teaching, rehearsing/performing, and putting together my own musical projects. When you're a performer, you often have the sensation of going to work when everyone else has their recreation time—on Saturday night when people might be going to a concert, you're warming up and getting ready to play that concert. It's a special privilege when your "work" is providing other people with entertainment/enjoyment; it often means work feels a lot less like work. That being said, the preparation that leads to that concert often feels a lot like work.
As a performer you often have to think of the needs and interests of your audience. This can be dismal for a classical musician since the general public is not particularly interested in sitting still at a concert of 200-year-old music. This "old" music flourishes tremendously in Europe, so it's my hope that we can turn American audiences on to it as well.
SC: What’s your best advice for kids just starting out in music?
ED: Let yourself get lost in it. Find pieces/songs/repertoire that speaks to you and explore them. Listen to recordings and watch videos from people who inspire you.
SC: Who has been your biggest influence?
ED: I have a very eclectic musical palate so I have a number of influences. In early music, Jordi Savall constantly inspires. He manages to preserve a tremendous amount of historical accuracy and stylistic knowledge while always making his performances exciting, expressive, and fresh. It's almost as though he speaks the "language" of every repertoire he performs.
In popular music, I'm very interested in the music and approach of hip hop artist Kanye West. As a mainstream artist, he strives to push musical boundaries and introduce new sounds and textures to a hip hop atmosphere.
SC: Do you have any upcoming gigs or projects in the works?
ED: My latest major project was the release of my self-produced solo album in February 2013, BASS SOUNDS: Music for Unaccompanied Cello from the Early Baroque.
I'm also putting together a period instrument chamber group that I'm really excited about. I'm not ready to formally announce it yet, but it's an ensemble that is currently lacking in the Boston early music scene, so I'm really looking forward to sharing it.