Leaning In for Musicians

I have to admit, I have been ensnared by Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In,’ and the movement inspired by it. But while it is about women and how they are being held back and are holding themselves back, I found a lot of similarities to my own experiences, not only as female, but as a musician.

There was a long period of my life when telling new acquaintances that I had majored in music in college, the doors of communication slammed shut faster than you can say “Gemeinhardt.” Letting slip that I had a master’s degree only deepened the divide. I could see that the other people were wondering how they could relate to me, that I must be some exotic creature who could only converse about esoteric, highly cultured topics. Never mind that we met while I was sweating it out on the Stairmaster next to them, or playing darts at the neighborhood dive bar. I had to either gloss over or avoid these details when meeting new people if I had any hope of having a second conversation, or getting a date! I wanted to be liked, or at least not treated like a leper, so I denied one of the most important parts of myself.

As an over-educated, underemployed musician, this type of information was also a detriment in job-seeking. Instead of being able to advocate for my strengths and skills (many of them honed by my musical study,) again I had to downplay that I had been a music major. “Yes, my training as a musician and academician will not hamper my ability to run a photocopier.” When it came to making a living, I became someone who believed that I was only able to do what other people allowed me to be, a completely self-defeating behavior, both as a musician, a woman, and a human.

I am trying to break out of this. Really I am! I’ve written a music practice book that I’ve sold directly as a pdf and as an ebook. I have plans for at least two more. I’m thinking about putting myself out where I will be seen, offering lessons on Skype and presenting at music events. My skills and knowledge have value, don’t they? Every step has been exciting, excruciating, euphoria-inducing, and frustrating. I’m a long way from my goals and time keeps ticking.

The book has spurred me to think bigger and to think about what tables I would want to sit at. We meed more musicians sitting at local government tables, education tables, arts committee tables. I know that where I live, the city’s arts committee doesn’t even include music or any type of performing arts, it is only geared toward visual arts. (My boss sits at this table.) How do I get to this table or one like it?

There are lots of reasons I am not where I want to be in life. Not all of them have to be with being a woman or being a musician. I’ve often wondered what life would have been like if I had taken a different academic and career path. But it always comes down to the fact that nothing interests me or engages me as much as the study and performance of music, and I have a lot of interests! I can’t imagine my life without it. I don’t see how other people do without it or something similar. So the current overall challenge is (still) to find my place at the big musical table. Suggestions welcome!

Thoughts on Conducting a Flute Choir

I’m just recovering from the most recent performance of the flute choir that I conduct, (the Tampa Bay Flute Choir). It was a lovely performance in front of a large, enthusiastic audience. It could hardly have gone better!

I have to admit that I was VERY, nervous going into the performance, almost unreasonably so. I am a novice conductor and can really mess things up if I’m not on top of things. I also tend to take responsibility for every little bit of the performance, such as the degrees of dynamic change, the impact of accents, the expression in a melodic line, etc. When I get obssessive about these things, I have to remind myself that in performance what the flute choir needs most is a steady beat and a sense that everyone is where they are supposed to be at that particular moment. The time for micro-management is over. I’m a good ensemble coach, which is great for rehearsals, but during a concert the group needs a leader, fearless or not.

As a new conductor, I’ve learned that a great deal of personal preparation is needed in order to create a good performance. Conducting a musical performance can be very different from performing on an instrument. My prep isn’t that different from what I do to get ready to play in an ensemble, but instead of worrying about the technical issues of flute playing, I’m worrying about how to move the baton or my hands in order to guide the players through the music. Sometimes I think of the choir as a large, living musical instrument and I am its player. In reality it isn’t quite the same thing, but if the group dynamic is really good, it can be close! I love the coaching side of it, encouraging the players to play more musically than they thought possible and giving technical advice that will help them accomplish that (only when needed!)

The rehearsal theme this season (described in an earlier post) has been that we are weaving a musical tapestry with each player responsible for their own thread, sometimes bringing the thread to the surface so it can be heard, at other times taking it to the background so other threads can be heard. This concept has worked well, with players quoting the idea often.

We are already hard at work organizing and rehearsing for the next concert. I hope I can carry the successes of the last two performances (Christmas was good, too!) forward to the season finale so we end on a good note. I literally try to always end rehearsals on a good, beautiful, resonant chord so we leave feeling both like we accomplished something and looking forward to duplicating that experience next time. This last concert has had that effect on the group; I want to keep it going!!

Intonation Book Update, it’s on Amazon.com!

Just a quick update: my practice book is now formatted for eReaders and can be purchased through the Kindle store at Amazon.com. The content is the same as the PDF version I launched earlier, but formatted specifically for Kindle eReaders. Soon it will also be available through several other outlets such as the iBooks store, I’ll post that information as it happens. The book is still available in PDF form through this site, just go to the Buy the Book page for ordering instructions.

Happy Fluting!

Practical Intonation Practice Manifesto

Practical Intonation Practice Manifesto

1. Everything is a tone exercise. Always use the best tone production possible! Good intonation and good tone go hand in hand.

2. Don’t rush. Give yourself plenty of time to hear the sounds you are producing so you can determine if any changes need to be made. Pay attention to how it feels to produce a good note that is ‘in tune’ and memorize that feeling so you can reproduce it.

3. Regular, small bits of careful practice will achieve more than long sessions of inattentive, mindless practice.

4. Your ears are your most important musical tools. Improving your intonation is as much about improving your ears as it is anything else.

5. Words are important. The words you use to describe your practicing (or others’) influence what you will be able to accomplish. Stay away from judgmental right/wrong statements, instead try works/ doesn’t work, better/best.

Phoning it in: Practice apps for Smart Phones

It’s amazing what smart phones can do! They not only relay phone calls and email, text messages and Facebook updates, they can also make practicing better and easier. I’ve had a metronome app for awhile (an Android app, nothing against iPhone, just my carrier doesn’t support them) and have enjoyed it immensely. I had been lusting for a Dr. Beat with all its cool features, but the free app I downloaded from the Google Play store gives me all the functionality I want. I can change the tempo 1 beat at a time, and have a different sound for the first beat of the measure. It can’t make different sounds for each of the beats in the measure, but I would use that so rarely, I’m not missing it. I’m sure that will available soon, anyway!

I’m also trying out an app that will play back pieces at different tempos while keeping the pitch the same. This is really helping me with the current orchestra program, since I’m playing mostly piccolo and the pieces are requiring lots of practice at slow tempos and working them up. Too bad I can’t use both programs at the same time! (I think SmartMusic might have this capability, but it’s not available on phones, yet!) With rehearsals only once a week, it is hard for me to get a good sense of how my part fits in. My score study time has to be spent on the flute choir rep that I conduct, so being able to hear how my part fits in really helps.

I’ve even got an ear training app that tests my ability to hear and identify intervals and tonalities. I can’t imagine what life would have been like if I had had these tools when I was a student! As a musician with a day job, practice time has to be used as efficiently as possible, there is never enough time, but tools like these really help. Now if I only had an app that made my brain work faster I would be in really great shape!