Monday, July 7, 2014

Be a Purposeful Artist

I'm sure we all make a point to check out the excellent bog posts over at Inside the Arts - which means, if you haven' need to now.  Just in case you have been too busy playing Pops Concerts and the 1812 Overture, let me direct you to one I found to be quite excellent: Impressions and Appreciations on Holly Mulcahy's blog.  This post wraps up her series in which she reflects and shares wisdom that young musicians need to know and experienced musicians wish they had ingrained sooner. 

In her post, Mulcahy poses the question of why we have chosen our careers in the arts - specifically music.  I want to take a few minutes to actually answer those questions:

Why does my involvement in music mean anything?

My involvement in music means that I am part of the continuation of a valued and integral aspect of my society's, and generation's, cultural fabric.  I am both preserving and creating within an art form that informs and responds to the dynamic nature of the human experience.

 What am I contributing to society as an artist/musician?

I am contributing my personal passion for music.  This is includes, but is not limited to: the positive affects live music has on a person's development, education, entertainment and cultural awareness.

 Am I sincere with my goals as a musician?


 Is it worth the personal struggle and sacrifice?


 Am I perpetuating the art?

At this point in my career, I feel strongly that, most specifically, my work with the Chinook Winds is expanding the positive perception and scope of wind chamber music and classical music in general. 

 Am I helping sustain it in the minds of society?

More than sustaining, I feel like we are most often introducing the joy of live classical music.  Sadly, we seem unable to sustain the value of music in society because of a generation that now seems to lack a meaningful and positive introduction to it.  Baby steps, we will get to sustaining once we have done our due diligence with proper introductions.

Why am I answering the questions Mulcahy posed?  Because, as she intimates in her post, we need to be purposeful musicians!  I love that she addresses the importance of first impressions and it reminds me of the points I made with my own post about being an effective communicator.  The fact is, we all know how much we enjoy what we do but to expand and progress as artist and professionals, we must address why.

I think it is so easy to get lost in the static of work - get in the practice time, make it to rehearsals, take care of the sustenance of private teaching, buy more concert black - that we miss the big picture of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and who that affects. 

Be a purposeful artist!

I laughed when Mulcahy mentioned vanity plates since I finally have my dream vanity plates.  WHY did I spend money on vanity plates?  Because I want every person who drives up behind me to look at that plate and think about a bassoon, the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras, and their local symphony.  Why?  So that when they see an advertisement for a symphony concert or chamber music performance, they will think about that plate, maybe chuckle, and then think, "Hmmm, maybe I should check that out.  Maybe I will meet the person who owns those plates.  I bet they are neat people."

Yes, it's that purposeful! 

Be a purposeful artist!

Present yourself and your art in a way that reflects all the training, practice, education, and passion you have invested in it.  Take time to write down your own thoughts about why you are engaged in this work.  It will probably change over the years and that's great, that is part of your progression.  But among the many activities pulling you in too many different directions, always be purposeful and don't get so caught up in the work that you forget the why

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Always the Teacher, Now the Parent

This post is a close follow-on to the thoughts I shared about Recognizing Your Worth as an Artist

Private teaching the past two years has been a frustrating aspect of my work in Montana.  I have pondered many different aspects of being a teacher as I have progressed to understand better how teaching in GTF is going to work for me.  In the midst of this, my son - better late than never - decided he wanted to play cello!  This meant entering a new world: paying for private lessons.

I have been a private instructor for 20 years! 

I began teaching beginner piano lessons when I was 14 years old in order to pay for my lessons and transportation to the Hochstein School of Music in Rochester, New York.  As a 14 year old piano teacher, I wrote and paid for my own advertising, established a studio policy, created my first artist biography, managed a teaching schedule, set lesson fees, designed curriculum, communicated with parents, assessed progress, and finished each year with a studio recital.  Looking back, I think I was better organized then, than I am today!

However, being a parent to a music student is a whole new world! 

I am sad to say, that in only 1 year, I have done every single irritating thing that students have done to me:
  1. Missed payment for lessons
  2. Missed lessons without cancelling
  3. Last minute rescheduling
  4. Last minute cancelling
I can only imagine that my son's teacher has had the same thoughts that I have had as I sit in my studio waiting for a student who is 5 minutes late, 10 minutes late, 15 minutes late, a no-show. 

Being a parent has definitely made me more empathetic to my students and parents. 

The reality is that life is busy!  In a perfect world, our weekly schedules are all exactly the same.  But in my life, my schedule is always different.  This means that I am constantly canceling or rescheduling for my son and my students.  In all of that, it's no wonder that lessons get missed or forgotten.

On the upside, there are a few things I do very well as a parent that I wish more parents would do for their students:

  1. Know what your student needs to practice and ENSURE they get their practice time in.
  2. Sit in the lesson and be aware.
I can overlook missed lessons and missed payments.  What is frustrating as a teacher is feeling like a babysitting service because the parent shows little interest and doesn't follow up week-to-week.  Getting your students to lessons is obviously important, ensuring that your student is actually learning and practicing is far more important.  Too often, parents drop their kid off once a week at a lesson and wait for the studio recital at the end of the semester/year. 

Parents, you are missing out an amazing learning experience with your child!  Studying privately isn't like having a math tutor because your kid is failing math.  Studying privately is the opportunity to watch your child interact with an expert in a discipline that your child has expressed passion for. 

I LOVE attending my son's cello lesson each week.  For a few months, I was even able to play his cello as well as he did.  I love watching my son learn from an expert!  I love watching him learn and then master a new concept or technique.  I love observing another teacher and learning myself how I can help my son and all of my students.

Ensuring that my son practices is sometimes difficult but I have learned to step back and let him work on his own - that's why he has a teacher.  I'm not expected to teach him cello, but I am expected to provide him with the time, space, and tools needed to teach himself in between lessons.  It's wonderful to listen to your child practice and improve day by day.  I don't hear scratchy sounds, I see a child working to learn and improve. 

I obviously believe in the value of private instruction both as a parent and as a musician.  I want to further encourage parents to take a more active role in supporting their child in learning music.  Don't just drop them off while you run errands - go inside!  Even if you can't always be present for every lesson, make a point to attend even occasionally.  If you can sit through a 2-hour athletic practice or game, you can sit through a once-weekly music lesson.  Encourage your student to practice DAILY and provide that by giving them time and space.  Volunteer to take a chore off their hands so they have  an extra 15 minutes to practice.  Have them end their practice session by playing a few lines for the family in the living room.  Learn to become familiar with their progress so you can give positive feedback as you hear them improve. 

I have seen first hand this past year how my son's cello study has brought fun and music into our home and family in a whole new way!  I'm not really concerned with what Morgan does with cello in 20 years but I'm truly grateful for the memories we are making as a family right now surrounding his cello study. 

Recognizing Your Worth as an Artist

I have been traveling out of town for work a lot recently.  It's something that I really love about my work here in Montana.  Symphonies in Montana have organized themselves into a collective called the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras.  There are 8 ensembles included in the association.  There are aspects of this association that seem to function rather well such as sharing music amongst members - which I know saves $$$ for each organization.  Also, I'm rather fond of the MASO license plate which I have availed myself of this year:

Part of working in Montana includes "importing" to these member organizations as they have need for a bassoonist.  I contract with these orchestras individually and to date have performed with 4 of them.  Outside of my salaried work, though I enjoy playing with MASO member orchestras, I don't make a lot of money playing for these orchestras.  Typically, half of my pay is made in per diem and mileage.  While it's always fun to have a reason to travel to one of Montana's larger cities (which are all quite small) and play good rep with different conductors and musicians, I'm usually lucky to clear a modest honorarium after all expenses are factored in.

When I was asked to import to Glacier Symphony recently, I looked at my calendar and though that it would be lovely to head over to the other side of the mountains for a long weekend but that it would create complications to leave my son at home.  The more I travel in the region, the more I wish I had my son and husband with me.  While my husband has to work, leaving my son home while I go play a few rehearsals and concerts is increasingly impractical.  So I did something I have never done before: I valued myself enough as a musician to ask for accommodations for myself and my son...and I was obliged!  This was really exciting because suddenly, a gig that would have been fun and cleared me a few dollars but would have taken me from my home for 4 days, turned into an adventure that added greater value to the whole trip. 

It was a beautiful long weekend for a trip to northwestern Montana.  My son got to listen to two concerts that he REALLY enjoyed!  We hiked, picnicked, explored, and learned together while I also managed to do some work.  It also set a precedent for me and this orchestra that, should they invite me again, it will be easier to ask for compensation that is valuable TO ME - not just per service pay, per diem, and mileage but a way to include my son and not have to leave him home.

 I have been thinking a lot more about my worth as a musician this year.  THIS article made me resolve to do a better job at valuing my worth as a musician not only for myself but to set a precedent for others musicians.  The area in which I have struggled the most to value myself as a musician is in my private teaching.  Teaching bassoon privately has never been great for me.  I taught beginner piano lessons for many years and found it rather easy to set a price, find as many students as I wanted, and ensure that I was paid.  This has never been the case for bassoon students.

There are many reasons/excuses why teaching bassoon has/is/will always be more complicated:
  1. There simply aren't as many bassoon students
  2. Students are profoundly limited by the instruments made available to them
  3. Purchasing a bassoon is cost prohibitive
  4. Purchasing a DECENT bassoon is cost prohibitive
  5. Students who chose bassoon can't always afford lessons (often, it seems, they can't)
  6. Band directors need a lot of help teaching bassoonists
  7. It's a bizarre instrument

For all these reasons, I have often found myself approaching my teaching more as a public service to the local music community than as a for-profit business model.  While I am well aware of the success of tuition-based and other private studio pay schedules, I have found that they aren't very practical for engaging student bassoonists. 

Let's look at the numbers where I live currently. 

15 elementary schools, 2 elementary bassoon instruments (new this year) = 2 elementary bassoonists
2 middles schools, maybe 5 instruments available combined = typically 4 middle school bassoonists
2 high schools, maybe 8 instruments available = typically 6-8  high school bassoonists

I have 12-14 potential students...but I am not the only teacher in the city. 

Of those potential students, how many can afford to take lessons?

Of those potential students, how many WANT to take lessons?

Of those potential students, how many are hooked up with the other teacher?

Thus I find myself within the predicament that IF a students approaches, I really don't want to turn them down.  My first year in GTF, I offered my services for free to try and drum up students.  This garnered one student.  I offered that student a sliding scale lesson fee.  I describe this in my studio policy as follows:

Parents should establish an amount that is valuable to the student but not a burden to the family.

In my second year teaching privately in GTF, I was given $300 in scholarship money which I offered to two students.  I asked that they simply show up ready to work and well prepared in exchange for the scholarship. 

My hope in allowing so much flexibility with regard to payment was that I would develop students who had a great appreciation for my expertise, the service they were receiving for free or greatly discounted, and in turn, I would have highly motivated students who would inspire me to teach.

The reality is that months of teaching went by and each week I crossed my fingers that students would cancel.

Teaching for free and discounted, in reality, made me dread my teaching days because I felt used.

The fact is, when there is a crisp $20 bill involved, I'm a better teacher.  I feel motivated to work for that student and give them a great hour of inspired bassoon teaching. 

The fact is, when there is a crisp $20 bill involved, the student seems to realize that what they are doing is valuable - to them, their parents, and me - and they should be prepared and ready to work.

I always knew this to be true when I taught piano and I never once gave a single piano lesson away for free.  But because the numbers for bassoon are so small, I thought I needed to devalue myself to ensure access.  What I have learned is that the best thing I can do as a teacher is ALWAYS value myself, my knowledge, my experience and invite students to find a way to share in that. 

Whether we are seeking valuable compensation as a performer or setting up payment structures for our private studios, we must always first establish our own Worth as an Artist.  If we expect others to value our talent and time, we must first value it ourselves.  Sometimes that means establishing a set dollar amount for lessons, sometimes that means asking for accommodations for a family member.   The point is to communicate that your talents, knowledge and experience carries value which is non-negotiable and certainly not free. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Légère Synthetic Bassoon Reed

On May 22, 2014 I began trialing a Legere synthetic bassoon reed - a reed I have long been interested in. 

I was originally piqued when I discovered youtube videos of the bassoonist with WindSync wind quintet using a Legere reed.  Like many, I assumed the Legere reed would be like the plastic Fox bassoon reeds we all have likely experienced at one time or another - hard, inflexible, unresponsive, and totally without color or finesse. 

I was further piqued when Paul Hanson traveled through Montana to give a few performances (which I was unable to attend) and was informed by colleagues that he was using Legere reeds exclusively.

Checking out his youtube videos, I was impressed with the obvious facility of the reeds.  To that end, myself and five of my Montana bassoon colleagues decided to jump in and give them a try.  Justin Miller was gracious enough to give us a discount since we bought them as a group. 

We had to wait several weeks for the reeds because Legere was making adjustments to the machining.  Justin Miller traveled to Legere to observe the result of those changes and I believe we received some of the first batch with the improvements.  It was very exciting to receive the reed and though it came with instructions for adjustment and maintenance, I popped it on my bocal and played after merely perusing the included reading material.

I was immediately impressed with the tone color and response.  Very dark, lovely sound with easy response throughout all registers.  Most impressive was the strength and stability of the top octave which clearly benefits from the structural strength of the reed.  I played for several minutes in awe of how much better it was than I expected.

What I began to realize though was that the aperture was much more closed than I am accustomed to playing on.  The more I played, the more I realized that with the smaller tip opening, I couldn't play as loud as I wanted to or dig into my bottom octave.  The pitch was on the high side and I was unable to bring it down. 

Though I was immediately impressed, I realized that there were some severe limitations.  I returned to the reading material that was included and attempted to make adjustments to the tip as the directions instructed.  However, the adjustments I made simply did not last.  In addition, the caution against damaging the reed by breaking the sealed sides made me very nervous and conservative with my attempted adjustments. 

With each practice session, I tried the reed and was always initially impressed with various aspects.  The ability to play softly with ease of response.  Not quite as soft (ppp) as my cane reeds but soft enough to enjoy the comparatively little effort it took to illicit soft response.  I also found the whole range of the instrument to be very consistent on the Legere.  Though the pitch was sharp, the pitch was consistent throughout.  The tone was also consistent.  Open F, loud C-#, low F#/A-flat, tenor D - all notes that tend to be unstable on my instrument especially on less than totally perfect reeds - were stable and responded in all dynamic ranges and attacks.  Additionally, though the reed tip was sharp at first, I was able to double tongue easily once I adjusted to the feel of the tip.

I found myself wanting to play the reed because it was very stable and didn't require me to fiddle around - I could just start playing.  The ultimate test for me was running through Bach Cello Suites 1 - 5 and the response, down slurs, and tone were really quite wonderful. 

A few weeks in, one of my colleagues emailed to see how I felt about the reed.  I shared that the aperture was too closed preventing the reed from being free-blowing and made it sharp in pitch.  I told him I wasn't able to make meaningful adjustments to the tip.  He enlightened me to better adjustments:

Regarding a more open aperture, the web site mentions to heat the water to 194 degrees, place the reed in the water for 30 seconds, remove with tweezers, gently insert a plaque and place in cold water for one minute.

I immediately gave it a try but for some reason I misread plaque and instead inserted a forming mandrel into the tube and THEN placed it in the hot water followed by ice water.  The whole reed opened up and was much more vibrant.  It lowered the pitch and was even on the flat side.  It was an improvement in some aspects but it had made the reed "thuddy".  It forced me to "muscle" the reed and caused my jaw to tire very quickly.  However, I could see even greater potential knowing that the reed could withstand adjustments that would last.

A few days later when the reed started to close down a bit more, I attempted the adjustment again.  This time placing a plaque in the tip, into the hot water and then into the ice water. 


Immediately, the read was fully vibrant, right on pitch, capable of full dynamic range - exactly what I wanted.

Though I had already traveled with the reed to Baltimore (sea-level) and Salt Lake City (4,500 feet) I had not had the tip adjusted correctly.  In traveling, I was able to ascertain that the reed is, from what I could discern, completely unaffected by changes in temperature, humidity, and elevation.  This was exciting because in the past season I have performed from sea-level to 4,500 feet and have had to change/ruin a lot of reeds based on my locale at the moment. 

After the highly successful tip-plaque adjustment, I was contracted to perform rehearsals and concerts in Kalispell (2,500 feet) with temperatures between 55'-65' degrees and lots of humidity and rain compared to 3,500 feet and mostly dry here in Great Falls.  I was a little uncertain upon arriving at my first rehearsal but I figured that since it was a Pops Concert and I wasn't in my home orchestra, it was worth the risk.  The first rehearsal went well.  Before the concert the next evening I made the tip-plaque adjustment one more time and was impressed that it improved the reed even more, making it more free-blowing and vibrant. 

An outdoor Pops Concert was the ultimate use for it.  The weather was cold and though our conductor kept talking at length between pieces, I didn't have to worry about the reed drying out, becoming too hard, or going flat with the temperature.  Furthermore, I wasn't ruining a great cane reed on a fluff concert.

The next morning, my hosts asked me to play bassoon for them. I put my bassoon together, pulled out the Legere and without any warm-up or reed soaking I played the Mozart Bassoon Concerto with total ease musically, dynamically, and technically.  I was stunned!  I played the Legere that evening for another outdoor concert and was furthermore impressed as the reed seemed to be even slightly better.  During intermission, I soaked and tried my cane reeds which I discovered were mushy and weak.  At that moment I was SO RELIEVED to have the Legere reed as I realized I would have been miserable playing on my cane reeds in those conditions. 

When I returned home the next day to 3,500 feet, 70' degree weather I pulled the Legere out for a practice session and was completely pleased.  I jumped right into practicing without fiddling with reeds to return them to adjustments befitting my home elevation and climate. 

I am very excited about the Legere reed!  I purchased a medium strength reed.  Though I still have not achieved a complete ppp dynamic worthy of a second bassoon audition (see previous blog posts), I feel very pleased with the dynamic range it offers.  The tone color in all octaves is desirable: focused, projecting, consistent.  I am now able to punch out my bottom octave in a ff dynamic.  I love the projection of the top and mid-range.  It's very easy to push the reed without it becoming harsh or too reed-y.  It has sizzle but not an offensive buzz.  I am still experiencing some muscle fatigue in my jaw after about 2 hours of consistent playing but I think I might be able to eradicate that simply over time as I become conditioned with it or perhaps trying the soft hardness that Legere also makes the reeds in. 

I will keep using it through the summer and I'm looking forward to taking it into both a symphony and Chinook Winds rehearsal in September.  I anticipate a very positive response from my colleagues.


For a bassoonist who has played professionally in the Intermountain West since 2009, I have come to know the frustration of constantly changing elevations and climate with the accompanying inconvenience of constantly changing reeds.  Especially since the greatest single obstacle I have had to face and overcome with auditions is that EVERY audition I have taken has required me to anticipate huge changes in my reeds.  It has been my dream to change elevation by thousands of feet and not worry about making reeds from scratch in 24 hours. 

Though I have always felt very confident in my reed making skills, it is very frustrating to walk into auditions worrying about sagging E's and C-sharps that were perfect the day before at a higher elevation.  If I can continue to find success with the Legere, it will become my highest recommendation for traveling bassoonists who don't want to make reeds at every elevation.

Furthermore, how exciting to imagine a practice session wherein 20-50% of my time is NOT spent on reeds.  How exciting to imagine NOT having to frantically soak cane and form tubes in between out of town trips.  Finally, how exciting to imagine simply NOT spending money on cane that may or may not turn into the reed you need when you need it.

This year, I started the incredible journey of homeschooling my son.  On top of rehearsals, practice, private teaching, concerts, touring, and life, homeschooling has made my schedule so tight that I am constantly in a battle to triage each activity based on what ABOSLUTELY has to get done vs. what can wait.  The potential of eliminating reed making would be an obvious boon to my schedule.  So, am I *hoping* these reeds will work?  YES!  Is that causing me to paint an overly optimistic picture of the capabilities of these reeds?  NO! 

Try for yourself!


I was hoping to post videos for this review but in between work trips and a month long vacation, laundry, packing, grocery shopping, teaching and practicing all in ONE DAY took precedence over recording excerpts for yotube.  However, I WILL add some in the future as I continue to track my experience with Leger reeds.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Audition Thoughts Part 18

A few weeks ago I took another 2nd bassoon audition.

It was a good experience, as they all are.  This being my second audition since winning a salaried gig, I am reminded that it is vastly easier to take and prepare auditions mentally when you know that you have a secure gig to return to.

Winning your first gig is such an incredible hurdle to clear.  For so many different reasons, being in a job puts you in a very different place than those in school, newly graduated, working odd jobs, even some free lancers.  However, HAVING a job and then trying to advance into a "better" job is very tricky.

One of the challenges I keep facing are scheduling conflicts.  I promised myself I would take one audition per season to help keep me "fighting fit" and maintain my awareness of what bassoonists sound like out there.  (Because I DO listen to everyone around me in auditions.)  In reality, because I had so many scheduling conflicts, there was only one audition this season that I could even attend.  Fortunately, I was invited to attend.  Keep in mind, you won't always receive an invitation.  Sometimes they will ask you to provide a recording and sometimes they will simply state that, based on your resume, you lack the necessary experience.  It's always fun to see how they word those letters...

Of course it's also easier to get invited to an audition when your resume shows you in a full-time position.  It's also easier to prepare the audition because playing full-time (minus the distraction of school work, part-time jobs, etc) your playing improves in subtle but consistent ways.  I wasn't quite aware how much I had improved until I took the audition at the end of last season.  This audition was another reminder of how I have further improved with a second season in the books. 

What has improved:

-dynamic range
-musical phrasing
-confidence, confidence, confidence!

This was definitely one of the longer lists I have encountered for a 2nd bassoon audition.  It was a pretty standard list with a few excerpts I have not seen on a 2nd bassoon audition.  This is great because it allowed me to really focus on cleaning up some of the standards and put a few news ones on the radar.  I took about 3 weeks to prepare.  That's about all I had time for and, true to life, there were still some last minute distractions that took time away practice time in the final week.  However, because we have family in the area of the audition, I arrived a few days early and was able to get some good work done in my final practice sessions.

It seems that in with every audition I have a major breakthrough with at least one excerpt.  For this particular audition it was all the Symphony Fantastique excerpts.  I have performed Symphony Fantastique with Graziella Contratto conducting when she was the assistant conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, with the Tuscaloosa Symphony in Alabama, and last season here in Great Falls.  I can play the excerpts just fine...but that's the problem.  They have always been just fine.  This audition, with the help of my husband, I finally got all the trills worked out in the fifth movement and found a better anchor note for the run in the fourth movement which FINALLY made the run sound perfect instead of just fine.  That was really awesome and made the whole audition worth it.  I have to play it again this season with the Billings Symphony which will be fun now that I'm not sweating little details like that anymore. 

My preparations felt quite good for this audition.  Even Mozart 35 came together at the last second with the horrid octave jumps in the 2nd bassoon part.  I felt good.  I had switched bocals a few weeks prior and was a little nervous about that because it made me sound BIG.  Really meant for principal playing.   I thought about switching to a more subdued bocal but I have to admit, I just didn't want to because I have loved this new bocal so much.

That was an error.

For a 2nd bassoon audition, I underestimated how unbelievably soft they want you to play.  I went in feeling confident in a principal bassoon way which meant bumping up my dynamics to show off my confidence.  I played the first excerpt, 4th mvt Symphony Fantastique and was immediately asked to replay but SOFTER.  The good news is that they asked me to replay which typically means they are interested.  The bad news, they asked me to replay which means you didn't give them what they wanted.  I played four more excerpts and then was released. 

I felt too loud.  I started tensing up on the Brahms and my pitch went up and that was the last one they heard from me.  I played the way I like my 2nd bassoon to play with me.  I felt good about the audition and if I had heard myself, I would have been very interested.  I was true to myself. 

I knew it was not going to be my day though and that is totally OK.


A few years ago Gabriel Beavers told me not to take 2nd bassoon auditions because I don't have the correct sound for it.  Two years later with a lot of time playing principal under my belt, bocals and reeds set up for principal, and a lot more confidence, I'm sure I'm even FURTHER from the appropriate 2nd bassoon sound.  However, I still envision myself sitting very happily in an orchestra somewhere playing 2nd bassoon.  When I'm honest with myself, I think I probably want to play second so I can avoid the pressure of principal. 

What is key in this whole experience is understanding that 1) principal bassoon and 2nd bassoon are very different jobs and require different skill sets.  It's in the details and in high level playing, they are very different bassoonists.  2) there is a way to play music in the orchestra and then there is the way you play excerpts in an audition.  It's not the same.  Especially for 2nd bassoon auditions. 

I'm committed to taking one audition per season but I need to commit to NOT taking 2nd bassoon auditions...

...which is easier said than done.


Monday, May 19, 2014

The Artist as an Effective Communicator

How many different ways do we communicate as a professional musician?

1.  With our music.  This is pretty obvious.  Our music speaks for itself.  It tells the story intended by the composer.  Sometimes it's an image, Mussorgky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."  Sometimes it's a feeling, Wagner's "Liebestod."  Often it is an actual story, any of Schubert's Lieder.  In all of these examples there is a specific message which is conveyed through the compositional skill of the composer.  Some performances convey that message better than others but for many pieces in standard rep, the story is often able to transcend the actual performance.  Thanks to program notes and the advent of Wikipedia, it's easy to know what you are listening to even if the performance isn't necessarily telling you.

But there is a second aspect to performance that also communicates to the audience.  It is sometimes more obvious and sometimes subtle depending on who is listening and how well they are paying attention.  The message communicated in performance is about you, the performer, and it tells the story of how well you prepared for this performance.  In my experience, when musicians listen to a performance they are often listening to hear this second story.  They are more interested in gleaning information on how much you practiced and how well you have mastered your art.  But be aware, even for the audience member who doesn't have a highly trained ear, we all have ways of communicating a lack of preparation or even a lack of interest in what we are doing.  Our faces can give away mistakes, frustration, and even worry when something goes wrong.  No matter what happens, keep smiling!  Live audiences are very capable of forgiveness especially when they feel drawn into your passion.

2.  With our words.  Now more than ever our audiences are looking to interact with the performer.  Anyone can sit home and simply listen/watch a performance on multiple forms of digital media.  What brings them out to live performance is not necessarily the performance but the intimacy in feeling connected with what they are hearing and seeing.  Many audience members will avail themselves of the program notes but in my experience, many more want to hear your thoughts as the performer.  They want to hear your words.  Audiences are looking for that fascinating bit of information they can't find in a google search. 

This expectation requires us to communicate in a medium we perhaps aren't "trained" for.  How often have we encountered a musician who stumbles over their words and finally says, "Just let me play it."  But playing isn't always enough anymore.  We have to be able to talk about.  We have to be able to effectively communicate what we are doing: to an audience, to our students, to patrons, board members, family members, etc.  You can't walk into a masterclass and "just play" for 2 hours and assume those students have learned the principals you intended for them to hear.  You also can't "just play" for your audience and assume that they know exactly what you have done to create a moment for them. 

You have to use your words!  That's something that I have said a lot as a mom.  More and more, it's something I think (and occasionally say) in my work as a performer.  We have to use our words effectively to convey messages, to build relationships, to create connections, and to give a complete performance.  I have found audiences interested in learning about how a selection was chosen, what happened in rehearsals, how we felt individually connected to the piece.  Answering questions like these doesn't happen during the concert.  It happens after the concert, when you mingle with the people who made the choice to share that performance with you.  It is effective communication that will bring an audience back - because you are no longer a performer to be watched, you are a person they can talk with.

3.  With our bodies.   I'm going to say it!  You can't look crazy.  How you dress, how you move on-stage, how you interact with your ensemble shouldn't look crazy.  It's like watching a young bassoonist flap their wings!  (Where does that come from?)  There is movement which is necessary and natural and then there is acting.  Have you ever performed under a conductor who engaged in a choreographed dance rather than conducted?  It's a nightmare.  You realize they have spent more time calculating how much fun the audience will have looking at their backside instead of spending time engaging with the score and the musicians.

Effective communication with our bodies is engaging to watch for an audience.  They can see cues, they can see the excitement (the wind quintet that moves to the edge of their chairs in the technical passages) but no one wants to see acting or clowning. 

I will go one step forward to say that we communicate with our bodies in how we dress them as well.  I will never forget attending a chamber music concert in Seattle where a quartet was featured for one piece.  Three women came out on stage wearing gorgeous couture gowns...and the palest faces draped in the stringy-est hair.  It was distracting!  It was as if they were half-dressed.  It looked like they had rolled out of bed, pulled on a $5,000 dress, picked up their $100,000 instrument and forgot to look in a mirror.  Did it ruin their performance?  I have no idea because all I could think was , "Good Heavens! Pull a brush through your hair!"  I'm I superficial?  Maybe!  But if I was thinking it, you know there were many more in the audience thinking it. 

Communicate effectively with your body by making sure you aren't distracting the audience with your body.  Dress and movement are ABSOLUTELY part of your performance!  Of all the time you spend in preparing for a performance, don't allow these details to go unattended.  Spending a few minutes to talk about what everyone is going to wear and what the general look should be is valuable.  Pointing out and correcting strange or unneeded movement is also time well spent.  For some who sit with their eyes closed, this won't be an issue.  But we all know that in today's visual society, more people are listening with their eyes. 

4.  With our press and media.  For many aspiring groups, they depend on communicating with potential audiences through their press and media long before that audience experiences them in performance.  This is an aspect of communication that requires a lot of time and creativity (sometimes money, sometimes not if you are creative) but can also pay a lot in dividends IF it is executed correctly.  I'm always learning more about how valuable and powerful an artist's press and media is. 

We can look to pop culture to see many examples of effective communication in press.  Even Miley Cyrus!  You hate her twerking?  Guess what, you knew EXACTLY what I was talking about when you read it.  THAT is effective media! 

We can look to classical music to see lots of bad press.  What has gotten the most media attention in the past few years: Detroit, NYC Opera, Minnesota Orchestra = all bad news.  We hear a lot more about things going wrong in classical music than things going right!  Much has been blogged about our need to get the good news out there.  Detroit is back playing and exceeding fundraising goals.  Minnesota has signed a new agreement.  That's the good news and now they need to keep the good news rolling.

A whole blog post could be written about this (and much has been) but I think the most important points to remember when managing your press and media is: creativity, positivity, clarity, and consistency.  Whether your audience is on a website, facebook page, looking at a poster, or listening to a radio ad; be creative, be positive, be clear, and be consistent.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Welcome to My View as a Bassoonist: Bassoonist With a View

Greetings all who have chosen to read these words! 

Welcome to my blog - my "professional" blog - and my thoughts as a professional musician.  I know that blogging has gotten very popular and everyone and their reed has a blog these days.  I have spent many hours reading the blogs of fellow musicians and bassoonists.  Sometime they are great!  Sometimes you spend 10 minutes reading about the taper of a bassoon shaper and experimental hand profiling and you think to yourself, "Oh my gosh!  Why am I reading this?" 

Likely those same thoughts may cross your mind while reading this blog. 

But I hope not!

First, allow me to draw your attention to all my labels featured on the right-hand-side column.  I wrote, in real time, a 17-part series about my quest to win an audition.  If you are currently on the audition circuit, I invite you to experience my auditions as I did.  All the dark and horrid thoughts that accompany too many losses.  If you think you are the only one eating a 1/2 gallon of ice cream in a cheap hotel room whilst watching a Lifetime movie and obsessing about the note you cracked in your Brahms excerpt...well...YOU'RE NOT! 

I've been there, I've done that.  Read it and weep.  More importantly, read my audition posts and learn some valuable lessons about taking and managing the ups and downs a many auditions.  Read them and gain hope!  This industry is not about who is most talented, it's about who works the hardest and sticks around the longest. 

I also posted my notes from the fantastic panelists I listened to while attending the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival in 2012.  These seasoned professionals gave invaluable advice about navigating the highly competitive world of classical music.  You can find them under the label IWCMF.

Finally, I will be posting new content regarding my work here in Montana, being a bassoonist, and the field of classical music in general. 

My hope for this blog is to be part of a positive campaign for classical music and classical musicians.  I feel like we, as a field, have generated a lot of negativity in the past few seasons with bad press and horrible labor disputes.  At the core of what is wrong with our industry is the horrible realization that the average American doesn't know what we do for a living and certainly doesn't value it. 

I want my story, found in this blog, to share the facts of being a professional musician and the joy of being part of a truly unique profession.  I believe the best thing we can do as musicians is educate, educate, educate!  Whether training young students, creating the next generation of concert goers, or just taking the time to explain to your dental hygienist what a bassoon is; we have a responsibility to create VALUE in what we are doing and in so doing, keep our profession alive.

To that end I present to you my blog, full of my views, Bassoon With a View!

Happy reading and best wishes,

Publisher's Panel IWCMF

IWCMF 2012: Publisher's Panel
Publishers Panel

Hosted by Mohammad Fairouz, I think this was intended for the composers, but we attended and learned a lot!

Fairouz prefaced the panel by sharing how his teacher, Gyorgy Ligeti, took Fairouz to Hamburg to experience Schott and introduce him to the world of publishing.
  • publishers need to see a compelling body of work with the potential for a long term future to consider taking on a composer
  • publishers are there for business ($$$) not to give out handouts
  • piracy has required publishers to be very selective and demanding because they are loosing revenue caused by piracy
  • re: composer/publisher relationship
    • composers still need to create their own "buzz"
      • do your own legwork
      • continue to self-promote
    • publishers are necessary
      • self-publishing will become impractical with composer success
    • digital music stand/E-Stand is not good yet, still impractical
    • digital only distribution is risky; still need print distro
      • What will still work in 100 years?  Paper!
    • publishing is not limber, they can't anticipate the size of the screen needed/desired in the future for long-term digital use
  • A good editor/publisher = easy rehearsal
    • page turns
    • accidentals
    • markings
    • readability
    • a good publisher goes unnoticed because everything runs smoothly; a bad publisher gets a lot of complaints from musicians
  • Distributors
    • get music into store
    • Hal Leonard = exclusive print distributor for Associated
    • Presser = associated with Carl Fischer allowing hand off of certain services
  • Quality output of an edition has a real, measurable affect on the success and acceptance of a piece!
  • "No one lives on royalties!"
    • Composer revenue:
      • day job (university faculty)
      • commissions
      • small royalties
      • misc other earnings
  • Music with preexisting text must have copyright approval for use
    • don't create the work and assume the copyright will "be fine"
  • High quality archival recording
    • don't just possess it, be sure to reserve the rights to use it
    • you can skirt the issues of use with a "limited use" clause to distinguish between use for distribution and use for performers, submissions, etc.
  • Pedagogical texts/materials
    • get famous!
      • Jeanne Baxtressor submitted her excerpts with 30 years of markings and annotations from playing in the NYPhil, now her excerpt book is her "greatest income earner"
    • create demand
    • recognize demand/necessity

Cliff Colnot IWCMF

Cliff Colnot

I think this may have been my favorite guest lecture.  His perspective and approach to being a career musician was very real and very practical.  After I'm done transcribing my notes, I will go back and draw some conclusions with commentary from all the lectures comprehensively.  Suffice it to say, Dr. Colnot's comments resounded with me because of what I have experienced, read about, and observed.  I recall that this was not one of the better attended events and it only lasted an hour.  So for those who missed it, enjoy my notes!

  • bassoonist, teacher, conductor, composer, arranger
  • at 30 years old, he quit his faculty job at Northwestern (because it was making him cynical) to take an unpaid internship for a commercial music company
    • this led to a paid job and then to the creation of his own company
  • the reality is, there is ageism in our industry
    • be versatile in different genres
    • don't get into a situation/"job" that will make you cynical, move on regardless of your age
  • don't find yourself in a "concentrated position"
    • i.e. having one job with one employer with one salary
      • orchestra job
      • university faculty
    • there is no "right" or "wrong" for your career
    • don't let one thing/experience make or break you
    • be adept and involved in many things
      • orchestral work
      • teaching
      • creating your own ensemble
      • arranging/composing
  • [Question asked] How important is talent?
    • "You need an adequate level of talent."  
    • Enough talent to be competitive
      • He stopped playing bassoon because he lacked adequate talent to make adequate reeds
    • more important though are the extra-musical skills
      • ability to focus
      • don't be defensive
      • be social
      • be on time
      • "Let me try that!"
      • have genuine curiosity
      • make NO excuses (too tired, dog died etc.)
  • [Question I asked]  What are your thoughts on the current orchestral industry?  Do you think they will ever value extra-musical skills as part of the audition process?
    • Not a good outlook for U.S. contract orchestras.
    • educational outreach for most U.S. orchestras is "disgenuine" and used to secure grants
    • this will never change and these organization will fail because of it
  • [Question asked] How do you stay relevant?
    • program very carefully
      • concerts should be 60-90 min at most
      • free tickets
      • increase demographic appeal and accessibility
  • [Question asked]  How do you identify a "worthwhile" endeavor?
    • When something becomes sloppy - STOP!

Career Development IWCMF

Career Development Panel

(Click on the links especially Jean Cook's to see the very interesting research she has done on revenue streams for the arts/artists.)

Richard Kessler (Dean of Mannes)
  • Old way of working in music = pursuing music for pure quality without regard for broader vision and considerations.
  • New way = Entrepreneurship = chamber music = management and business acumen; understand ALL aspects of business as a primary requirement, these skills need to be the new practical "core" to training
  • I failed to write down who the following Zones were created by, he read them from a speech (?), let me know if anyone remembers where this part of Mr. Kessler's comments came from:
    • Zone 1 A - empower (personal) resumes,  auditions
    • Zone 1 B - D. I. Y. (Do It Yourself) Culture - unique personal qualities, create a brand, mission, vision, presentation
    • Zone 2 A - make career for yourself and others, portfolio, pulling many diverse paths together
    • Zone 2 B - creating 501(c)3, build entities and organizations
    • Zone 3 A - socially directed with social/artistic purpose
    • Zone 4 A - Create totally unique, niche 501(c)3 based on community need
    • Zone 4 B - create commercial entity for profit
  • Orchestra industry - currently orchestra managers can't cover expenses with donors and ticket sales, suffering from declining audiences
Jean Cook
  • Arts Revenue Streams Projects
  • 29 ways to make music
  • (I noticed in her presentation something I saw trending in our research when we were creating Utah Wind Symphony, something *magical* happens in the 4th year/season of an arts organization.  Likely due to funding, much of which require you to be a 501(c)3 for 3 years before applying for many grants.  I wasn't able to ask her about this during the panel unfortunately.)
Amy Frowley (Concert Artists Guild)
  • Entrepreneurship = starting a business at your own risk; undertake to organize and manage
  • Learn the extra-musical skills in some way while you are still mastering the musical skills
  • DIVERSITY!  Regardless of your emphasis/genre, be aware of everything else.
  • Communicate with others - donors, audience, collaboration
  • CAG competition
  • Marketing - Phyllis Chen - DMA - radio show - toy pianists - commissions for toy piano - toy piano festival 
  • Hone aesthetic and identity
  • 1,00 True Fans 
    • focus on business around 1,00 fans instead of just trying to get our there en masse
Panel discussion/Conclusions
  • university training creates a lot of doubt and fear in music students whereas coming to a festival like Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival creates hope, connections, POSSIBILITIES. 
  • push the standards for writing and communication, function like a journalist
  • Open your ears and eyes, develop a network, ask questions, talk to people, read articles, stand on your own 2 feet

Edna Landau IWCMF

Guest panelist during my Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival experience, August 2012

Musical America: Ask Edna

One of our first guest lectures was with Edna Landau, celebrated artist manager and now blogger, who shared her personal story about arts management and savvy career advice for emerging musicians.  What follows are the notes I took which spoke to me in my career:

No doesn't always mean no in the musical profession
  • Have a personal vision and a business plan with projections
  • "If you aren't going to invest in yourself, you can't expect someone else to."
    • do whatever it takes; regardless of your financial situation
  • don't approach management until you have income potential
    • why am I interesting?
    • why am I worth someone's time?
    • what is my hook?
  • How to attract attention:
    • credentials
    • nice person, gracious demeanor
    • niche material
    • convey excitement and humility
    • incentivize (contests)
    • show an active schedule
    • innovative engagement
    • commission new works with audience appeal
    • create a sign-in book, email lists, cultivate your audience
    • use all social media, discriminating, presenting only what makes you look good
  • Funding
    • kickstarter
    • indiegogo
    • fiscal sponsor - 501(c) that accepts funds on your behalf, keeps a small percentage, disburses remaining to you while allowing tax exemption for your donors
      • take funding VERY SERIOUSLY, do not be casual
  • Find management/presenter that is passionate about you and your work
    • better to work with a presenter who is happy to make time for you than to work with a big name that is too busy to invest
  • Accessible programming'
    • know your audience
    • engage with your audience, tell them things they don't already know
    • don't ever program ALL new music, include works that are "familiar"
  • Attract an audience
    • celebrity
    • food
    • special surprise
  • Get your career going!
    • why am I special?
    • learn every facet of your industry!
    • go to lots of concerts; especially genres you don't perform
    • chamber music America
    • mailing lists
    • keep press kit/bio current
    • go to programs that will get you noticed
    • take the management competitions/auditions
    • commissions/premier new works
    • explore new venues
    • create new worlds
    • take every opportunity to play - even for free!
    • have a demo you can hand someone not just an .mp3 you can email
    • business cards
    • present/partner with a cause you care about

Most people don't get it - Life as a Freelance/Aspiring Musician

Originally blogged April 12, 2012

Are you still unclear on what I do for a living?
Feel free to get to know me better!

I have to admit that at 31, I'm still amazed by how little people understand about how I spend my time.  Even people who trained in the arts don't really know how freelancers spend their day.  My son thinks I sit on facebook all day...

I can't even imagine what the rest of my family honestly thinks about my "career."

The general public?  At one of my trio gigs a woman asked what we did for a living.  We all smirked and said, "We do this."  She kind of laughed and questioned again, "No, I mean, what do you do during the day?"  Her incredulity that we were "real live" musicians was disheartening.  Especially since she hadn't purchased a ticket to hear our performance.  

The fact is, there are so many careers that are just easier!  That's not to minimize what other people do for a living.  Totally free from exaggeration, I'm confident in saying that being a musician is uniquely challenging.  For many with a bachelors degree from any state university, they will enter their career field earning $40K/year and will see gradual and consistent increases in pay despite changes to their employer.  They will purchase a home, have kids, lease cars, go on vacations, throw money into a retirement account, get an online masters degree from U of Phoenix, earn more money, and barring complete incompetence, continue to advance in their careers.  Certain adjustments may need to be made as the economy dictates but otherwise they will remain employable and maintain their ever increasingly expensive lifestyle.  They will juggle the demands of home, work, church, spouse(s), children, aging parents, and progress through the expected vicissitudes of life.

Then there are musicians.  We have careers that, quite honestly, seem completely ill advised and closer related to an addictive gambler than a well thought out career path.  Racked with huge amounts of debt, musicians will go further into debt competing for jobs that pay $20,000 a year.  They don't buy their first home until well into their 30's (if they are lucky) and when they all but give up - they choose to enter academia but only after getting one more overpriced degree which makes them grouchy and bitter.  Most musicians with a bachelors in music performance will abandon the field, fleeing for greener pastures with a faster payoff in finance, law, computers, and education.  A few who stick it out will win jobs, not always because they are the best but because they held on the longest.  Still fewer will actually land their dream job somewhere in their 30's and then spend the next 30 years fighting to keep their salary while hoping and praying their organization doesn't fold - thus forcing them back into the market with younger, fresher musicians. 

If you want to know what I do for a living, read this:

This is the cliff notes version to what it's like being a professional musician.  It's not a complaint for me.  I feel blessed every day for each gig I play and every check that comes my way.  I'm one of the luckier ones. It's simply reality - it's what I LOVE and have trained to do for almost 20 years.  It's why: I don't volunteer in my son's class, only see a beach and stay in a hotel when I'm on an audition, why we haven't taken a "real" vacation as a family though we have spent thousands on auditions, a trip to see family in Michigan is an exotic vacation and I NEVER go without my bassoon.  All our extras go towards audition flights, a new bocal, and my own ensembles.  It's why at 2:38 today, after a morning gig and before an afternoon rehearsal, I'm cramming in more practice time and reed making.  So I can spend at least one hour tonight with my son before he goes to bed.  It's also why his birthday party was rescheduled 3 times last year and why he hates seeing me walk into my studio on Saturdays and head out for evening rehearsals.  It's not a complaint but it is reality.  At 31 I'm still trying to "get a job." 

This explains why I have stayed in the Army for 12 years despite 4 back surgeries and my constant fear they will just kick me out.

If you wonder why I'm only ever half available or neurotically checking my calendar for double bookings or wonder why you can't always catch me on my phone, don't take it personally!  It's just that I have been pursuing this for a looooooooong time.  I'm not ready to give up.  Until I do obtain something that resembles "the dream job" I'm going to be a little distracted.

Last night I had a reoccurring conductor nightmare, the same one I have been having for almost a year.  Dreams like this are the reason I have insomnia.  Losing 2-3 nights of sleep per week.  Is this serious to me?  You better believe it!  
T he next time you see your local orchestra asking for donations, don't assume it's going to fatten already large salaries for people who "just do it for the love of music."  Remember that these are highly trained professionals who have made incredible personal sacrifices, have alienated friends, missed life events, forgotten birthdays and anniversaries, passed up on "real day jobs" to live like ascetics, have only traveled when an audition came up, and aren't interested in joining in on a family cruise because it will cut into practice time.  We aren't late bloomers, or debauchees, or immature, uninterested in commitment, afraid to take on adult responsibility.  Quite the opposite: we are resolute, determined, disciplined, and have faced years of rejection because we literally live on a hope and a dream that ALL the work will finally pay off...for a job...making $20,000 a year...assuming the orchestra doesn't fold with the next contract negotiation. 

Audition Thoughts Part 17

Originally blogged December 5, 2012 This was a hard post to write because I had to acknowledge many things about myself, my career, my ability to prepare for an audition, and the reality that I lost an opportunity partially because of things I can't control and partially because of things I could have controlled.

 In 1998 I headed out to BYU as a music performance major.  I lasted exactly 6 months as a student at BYU.  One of the absolute highlights of my short time as a student in Utah was our almost weekly trips up to Salt Lake City to see the Utah Symphony concerts.  At 18 years old, they were the best orchestra I had ever heard live (in my 18 year old opinion.)  The Utah Symphony just seemed an absolutely musical gem (and I still think they are) and I vowed that I would someday play with the Utah Symphony.

Fast forward 15 years and an unexpected return to the state of Utah.  Five years of living in Utah, going to school in Utah for my graduate degree, free-lancing around Salt Lake City, and even performing as a sub with the Utah Symphony.  We purchased a home thinking that Salt Lake City was going to be our final destination and then, inexplicably, I won a job in Montana with a requisite move.  BUT on the horizon remained an opportunity to win a job with Utah Symphony because the second bassoon spot in Utah Symphony had opened and would be auditioned.

I know that every audition is a crap-shoot, a lottery, a game of chance and luck.  For every musician there is that one audition that you just REALLY want a chance at because you can feel the win - or at least the hope of a win .  The Utah Symphony audition was definitely my one audition that I really wanted a chance to win.  I mean, let's be honest, it was a long-shot but so is EVERY audition...and stranger things have happened.

The truth is...augh...I'm going to have to admit it.  For  a job I really wanted, I did not prepare.  I don't mean that I felt unprepared, I mean I was not prepared.  I had the list months in advance and looked at it and saw that there were a few excerpts I would really need to address.  Bit I didn't.  Why?  Because I was completely ensconced in the job I have here in Montana and I simply didn't know how to master the new skill of: hold down current job and prepare for bigger job.  That's an advanced skill that they definitely never teach you in school.  They teach you to win one job, not manage one job AND land a new, much more demanding job.
I think there was some self-sabotage happening.  Two weeks before the audition I decided it might be good to open the attachments in the email that invited me to the audition and realized that I was a few weeks past the deadline to send in my audition intent form.  Part of me wrote it off but I decided to email the APM (a colleague I knew and had played in a quintet with) and ask her if she would accept it late...which of course she did.  At which point I decided I needed to get serious and start into audition prep.  But then concerts and rehearsals and life and *POOF* it was four days before the audition I was down to THE WIRE to get it together!

Then the storm hit - like, one of the biggest in Montana history - and they don't clear the roads in Montana because it "never" sticks.  Except it did this time.  Four days passed and I never even saw a snow plow BUT I got in a ton of practice time.  Perhaps even enough to be competitive.  I emailed the APM and she graciously moved my time to the second day of auditions to give Montana Department Of Transportation some extra time to SEND OUT A FREAKIN' PLOW.  Which they did not.  With below freezing temperatures, ice covered roads, and no salt or plows, wemy husband and I did a trial drive to see if we could reach I-15.  What we learned is that it was treacherous and with all the mountain passes not cleared, I was facing the very real possibility of ending my life in pursuit of my *dream* audition.

I believe firmly that nothing happens without purpose.  I have seen this to be true in my life over and over again.  I don't know why I fell in love with the Utah Symphony so many years ago.  I have seen many amazing orchestras but never vowed to play with any of them except the USO.  I don't know why after 5 years in the SLC market, the spot opened and then I won a job out of state.  I don't know why I couldn't get my sh** together earlier to prepare for the audition the same way I have tackled auditions in the past.  I don't know why the weekend of the audition I did finally pull it together while a blizzard raged all around us.

All I know is that, in the end, I didn't go to that audition.  I have a job that, as it turns out, I love a WHOLE LOT.  We live in a city with good schools - way better than SLC schools.  The air is clean.  There is essentially no crime.  I'm perfectly happy with where I am right now.

I know there has to be a purpose and reason to it all.  I know that God once flooded the earth to get a message to His children that they needed to get their act together.  I know that I am very hard headed and so, maybe, God sent me a blizzard to let me know that where we are, right now, is exactly where we need to stay and instead of taking auditions I need to focus on what I'm doing and just be grateful for what I have.  What I have is quite a lot. 

And I am grateful.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Audition Thoughts Part 16

Originally blogged June 3, 2013

I don't think there will ever be a day when we hop on the plan to go somewhere exotic for vacation.  Knowing this, I have learned to try and enjoy every audition trip like a small, tax deductible vacation.  When I saw the audition post for Naples Phil I had two thoughts: this would be a good audition to take, it would be a fantastic reason to hang out with my best friend.

It's important to realize that I'm not at all eager to leave my wonderful position and our very happy life here in Great Falls.  However, taking auditions is just part of what musicians do - like going to the dentist to keep your teeth in good health.  Auditions keep you aware, relevant, and every once in a while even give you the opportunity to move into a "better" position.  The reality is, because of my responsibilities here and being busy with life, I simply did not prepare this audition the way I have prepared others.  I spent only a few practice sessions learning the surprisingly large number of non-traditional excerpts they had on the list.

Once there, I was so consumed with happiness to be with my best friend that I really didn't care about what happened with the audition.

We woke up on Sunday morning, shared Cuban pastries and fresh fruit as a family, sat out on the patio, went to Mass and then got on the road to head over to Naples.

Our hotel in Naples was absolutely stunning!  Arriving on the Gulf Coast for four days it was near impossible to remember that I was there to "work" and not just play in the ocean, eat food, and lounge in hot tubs and pools.

I think those could be used to make contrabassoon reeds!

View from our balcony.


Monday morning was the prelim round for the audition.  It was HOT & HUMID but the prelim list was standard so I just focused on playing the excerpts the way I know they need to be played and looked forward to hitting the beach and eating some great food when it was done.  I really felt nothing about the audition.  I was grateful for the opportunity to put my audition skills to the test.  I knew I could play all the excerpts well, and I trusted that going through the motions would, at the very least, highlight any deficiencies I might want/need to address. I have noticed that my playing over the past season has improved vastly in many areas including my ability to run through standard excerpts at a high level.  However, I was truly SHOCKED when my number was called to advance to semi-finals!

I have learned a LOT over the past 15 auditions and prayer before an audition is a must.  Not because you ask God to win, but because you ask God to give you peace with whatever is about to happen.

I went back to the hotel room and after N. left to play her audition, I immediately pulled out all the excerpts I had NOT prepared with diligence.  I texted my Guru who agreed to do a "cell-phone-hotel-room" lesson later in the afternoon. I practiced for a few hours and then welcomed the rest once N. returned from her audition.  We did a little shopping until I needed to be back for my rather hasty cellphone lesson.  It was amazing to connect with my bassoon Guru and review all the excerpts in detail.  It made me a little sad that I had not been more diligent with my preparation as I realized that I had a very real shot at winning a job that pays twice what I make now.  My Guru and I discussed the challenge of constantly going after "the job" versus enjoying the peace of accepting where you are at.  My Guru is amazing!  I can't help but realize how her mentoring has changed my life - inspiring me to see what I am capable of and helping to navigate my path toward achieving those dreams.  I know that I have been blessed by her wisdom and insight countless times and giving me a lesson/pep-talk over the phone was just another amazing reminder of how incredible it is to even have a Bassoon Guru in my life. 

The next morning I was a mess!  I allowed myself to imagine winning the job and then started obsessing about the implications: my current signed contract, another move, cost of living, public schools etc. etc. etc.

N. led me in an incredible devotional that reminded me that God was looking over this whole experience and that a closed door in Naples simply meant an open door somewhere else.  It was wonderful to kneel in prayer again, surrendering to His will and finding peace in knowing that I had nothing to lose.  The semi-finals, exactly as I had anticipated was all about the excerpts I had not prepared.  I knew I was sunk with Beethoven 9 but I still enjoyed the process, the new dress my husband allowed me purchase for advancing, and meeting a fantastic fellow bassoonist while waiting for results.

With the relief of another audition in the bag and a modicum of success to report, N. and I headed out to the beach and to explore Naples.  It is a gorgeous city but HOT & HUMID!  I have been living in the mountain west for long enough to be absolutely traumatized by that kind of humidity.  Great Falls, Montana --> Naples, Florida is probably the most extreme difference I have ever traveled between: weather, culture, demographics.

Chillin' in the Seattle airport...

I want to record my final thoughts on audition #15.

There are certain things which seem to ensure that I will do well at an audition:
  1. Purchase a new home
  2. Put a home under contract
  3. Travel with a loved one
  4. Give up completely on any idea that I will win/that I have control
  5. Have total faith in God that only if it's His plan, will it happen for me
  6. Practice...all the excerpts
There are certain things which seem to ensure that I will not do well at an audition:
  1. Care a lot about winning
  2. Start thinking about home values and cost of living
  3. Fret over changing schools for my son and IEP meetings
  4. Fail to prepare the ENTIRE rep list
  5. Manage my time poorly and not carve out the time required to prepare the rep list
  6. Make last second reed changes
All in all, after updating my running list of auditions, I see that the last three auditions have gone VERY well for me.  It transformed my perspective on living in Great Falls.  What felt like the ONLY option now feels like a choice as I realize that I am good enough to compete for higher paying jobs.  I'm not in any rush to leave but now I know that if there comes a time when we feel ready to leave, I will be equal to the challenge.

I feel strongly about the importance of having a support system in place for these auditions.  Seeing the success of my last 3 auditions I have to acknowledge that for those three auditions I had family with me (including my best friend who I consider family.)  Sitting in a hotel room before and after auditions, feeling lonely and trapped in the anxiety before the audition and then the frustration after the audition is a dark place.  Being with someone who can help temper that and keep you in perspective is invaluable.  This audition confirmed for me that if I want to take an audition seriously, I need to bring someone in my support system with me.