For musicians. the holidays can be extra stressful. Not only is there the pressure of the social aspects of the holidays, but this is when we work. Our holiday gig income tides us over what can be a very lean January. I learned the hard way what can happen if you aren’t careful.
The only time I ever had a back spasm was on a Christmas Eve. I was still in college, but I had been practicing and performing non-stop for the entire time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. After my fourth service on Christmas Eve, I came home and couldn’t do anything but lie on the floor until it went away. That was the only time I ever experienced a back spasm, but the cause was clear: I was working too hard and not being smart about it. After that I promised myself to find a better way to work as much as I could, preserve my health and sanity, and keep the fun in the holidays.
First two tips for the personal side of the holidays:
1. Schedule one small social time each week. I put this...
Today, I am especially thankful…
For my students who inspire and motivate me.
For my teachers who believed in me, nurtured me and taught by example as much as they did in lessons.
My first harp gig. I was 12.
For harp strings that are more durable than they used to be.
For the Ravel “Introduction and Allegro”.
For talented colleagues who are also caring people.
For audiences to share music with.
For hands, eyes, ears and mind that are still holding up after all these years. Mostly.
For amazing friends whose love persists over time and distance.
For my parents who bought me instruments, found the best teachers, drove me to rehearsals and performances, and never complained.
For my brother and sister who also never complained.
For my son with whom I can share the joy of making music.
For my husband for his never-failing support, his always-on-the-mark comments and the wonderful life we live together.
Each year at this time I am surprised by the sudden arrival of the holidays. No matter that the calendar progresses smoothly from day to week to month. I still experience the arrival of Thanksgiving as unexpected and a little unsettling. Nevertheless, this remains my favorite time of year, and I have some musical traditions that I use to help mark the season.
One is my annual Christmas carol arrangement that I write for my students. This year I will be making it available (for free!) here on the blog as well. Watch for the link later this week.
A new tradition that I am starting this year is making slideshows of photos taken in the past year and setting them to music. This year I will be using music from my solo Christmas CD, “Break Forth, Music for Christmas and the Season of Light.” You can find out more about the CD at ArsMusica.
The photos in this first slideshow are autumn and winter scenes from around our home in central Pennsylvania. We are fortunate...
Sightreading, a word that can cause the palms of even experienced musicians to sweat. Perhaps that’s because it is the one performance situation that we really can’t practice. It feels more like a free fall; take a deep breath, step off the edge and count the broken bones at the bottom.
But if we could practice sightreading, we could take away the fear factor. We could find more freedom and pleasure in any musical situation. If only we could figure out HOW to practice it.
I believe the key lies in understanding this: sightreading is a snapshot of your musical development. All your musical skills – technical, aural and expressive – come into play when you sightread. If your skills are above the difficulty level of the piece,you will sightread well. Think of a piece you played when you first started taking lessons, perhaps one you played at your first student recital. It took hard work and many months to prepare it. And now, years later, you can pull it out and...
Being competitive is a good thing. Competitiveness helps us try harder and bring our best effort to a performance. Competition is how we test ourselves and find our place in our particular arena.
But competitiveness has a dark side. Remember Tonya Harding? That’s an extreme example, certainly, but it shows how the desire to win can completely cloud a person’s perspective. Even on a smaller scale, competitiveness can cause unnecessary and unhelpful negative feelings that overwhelm us and prevent us from enjoying our achievements.
Picture backstage at the student recital. There are numerous students waiting their turns to perform. But among the group, two or three students seem different. They are advanced high school students, and they are the “special” ones. All the younger ones know that these students are the best, the ones they want to be when they are older. Perhaps those two or three are good friends who wish the best for each other. But sometimes...
On Sunday, November 11, flutist Joan Sparks and I will be performing a new work, Sonata Scintillante by Chuck Holdeman. We commissioned this work and premiered it at the University of Delaware on February 21, 2012. This post is about this exciting new piece, and includes notes about the work from the composer as well as some video links. If you would like to attend the performance, you will find information at the end of the post.
My flutist friend Joan Sparks and I have been performing together for over two decades. In that time, we have premiered and commissioned numerous works, among them Lowell Liebermann’s Sonata for Flute and Harp.
In May of 2011, we were considering another commission and decided to ask a colleague close to home. We have collaborated with Chuck Holdeman in many concerts and performed his works often, and we knew we could expect an exciting addition to the flute and harp repertoire.
Chuck was enthusiastic about the...
The world doesn’t reward perfection. It rewards productivity.” – Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done
I imagine something like this has happened to you, as it has to me: You have heard a great concert, a performance that moved you and inspired you. You rush to greet the players afterward to thank and congratulate them. But instead of hearing the compliment, they meet your enthusiasm with regrets about the things that went wrong. Whose idea of “perfect” matters here?
And what if the performer’s desire to present as “perfect” a performance as possible had prevented him from playing at all? It doesn’t matter how good you sound in the practice room, if that’s where you stay. The person in the room next door may not play as well, but if she is out there playing for others, she will hear the audience cheering, “Bravo!” There’s no...
Musicianship:knowledge, skill, and artistic sensitivity in performing music. (from Dicitionary.com)
It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself. – J. S. Bach
Musicianship may have been that easy for Bach, but for most of us being a good musician is more than just playing the right notes at the right time. We spend years studying the inner workings of music and developing our reading, hearing and understanding so that we can perform at the highest level possible. When you’re in music school, you have ample opportunity to hone your skills daily.
But what if you’re not ready for music school, or if it’s been years since you thought about ear training or theory? How do you keep sharp the important skills that make you a better musician? And who has the time to take classes and do homework? Here...
Each year at the University of Delaware, I hear auditions of prospective university harp students, young harpists with big hopes and dreams for their futures, varying cases of nervousness and in very different stages of preparation. Allowing for the fact that everyone gets nervous and bad days happen to us all from time to time, there are a few things any student preparing for college auditions can do to increase her chance of success.
1. Be sure you have read (and followed) the audition requirements. Believe it or not, sometimes students forget the most basic thing of all – to read the list of required or suggested audition materials . Every school posts lists of audition music on its website. The audition panel will expect you play music from that list. If for any reason you wish to play something else, be sure to email in advance the instructor who will be hearing your audition and ask if he or she will allow the...
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, (b. 1926) Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist
“Take a deep breath,” has always been good advice, but now there is evidence that deep breathing can alleviate performance anxiety. Although I didn’t need the study to tell me what I found out years ago.
Over 25 years ago, flutist Joan Sparks and I founded our flute and harp duo Sparx. We have traveled and concertized together extensively, and over time, we developed a backstage pre-concert ritual. One of the components of this routine was a series of exercises designed to warm up Joan’s breathing. Being a harpist, I was more interested in keeping my fingers loose, but being a good duo partner, I participated. Joan showed me how to breathe deeply, how to count breaths, and although I could never match Joan’s lung capacity, I learned to value the centered, focused feeling I had after our warm-ups.
And now along comes this ...