Life-Changing Lessons

December 27th, 2013 Comments Off

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A few days ago, I had a lesson with one of my teachers, Christina Smith. I half jokingly mentioned on Twitter later that afternoon that it had “changed my life.” But after some reflection, maybe it did in a small way…

Since I am no longer in school, I have to grab lessons whenever my schedule allows and when I can be where the teacher is. What a drastic contrast to the days of luxury when I had a lesson every single week! I loved school, which is one reason why I’m a prof now; I loved the academic music classes except sight singing, at which I am truly abysmal; Oliver Sacks could explain a few things about my sight singing abilities, but I digress. But my weekly lesson, regardless of what day it was scheduled, was the beginning and ending of each week for me.

This means that when I have the opportunity for a lesson now, I soak up as much of it as possible. I don’t come to lessons waiting to having things explained to me. I know where I am as a musician and I try to come prepared to ask the questions that will draw out information that will help me develop. What a huge difference from my student days!

In my recent lesson, we worked on sound. My sound is generally pretty solid but it can always be improved. My teacher shared with me new thoughts about sound production. It was really interesting to see how *her* ideas about sound have changed since I first studied with her almost 15 years ago. I have completely integrated the ideas I learned from her then; as her ideas change (and result in improved sounds), my approach must also change.

I have plenty to work on now; it’s good to know that there is always room for improvement as a student and as a teacher. I can now share those same ideas with my students and feel free to change my approach as I encounter ideas that work better. And hopefully I can impress upon my students that regular lessons are a luxury, coming to lessons with an open mind and plenty of questions results in better progress, and the study of the flute is a lifelong process that never really ends.

2011 in Review

January 2nd, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’s been a busy, full year. Usually, I assess what I’ve done (and haven’t managed to get done) at the end of the academic year; as a college professor, my concept of a “year” goes from August to May. However, it probably isn’t a bad idea to perform a mid-year check-up. While it’s easy to become frustrated as an ambitious, adjunct professor/classical musician, I think I’ve done a pretty decent job this year. I have several big projects in the works and will continue building on my experience, which will hopefully lead to a full-time professor gig in 2012.

Personally, there have been some tragic bumps in the road. My brother and sister-in-law had their first baby, Austin, in December 2010; she was premature. Baby number two, Cash, was born even more prematurely in September 2011. Both babies passed away this year. The March of Dimes has become my charity of choice, and I hope to be able to do some fundraising for them this year through music performance.

Professionally, things have been busy and varied. I spent a lot of time developing an online presence, finally biting the bullet and joining Twitter (@TammyEvansYonce) over the summer. I was reluctant to do so because I thought I was busy enough. However, I’ve met an entirely different group of people than I would ever meet through other avenues, and I’m able to interact with them regularly. It has definitely been worth it. I also redesigned my website this year, which I think makes it clearer and easier to navigate. I’ve also started adding blog posts to my site, with a primary focus on how to make practicing more effective and efficient. I’ve also written posts about teaching: my B-flat fingering rant is now in print, and there are posts about choosing a new instrument, how to prepare for a recital, and performance anxiety. I also started a new blogging site with the purpose of covering a wide variety of topics relating to a musician’s life: performance, music business, music education, and so forth. It has been growing by leaps and bounds, and we continue to add contributors. I’m really excited about this particular project and invite you to take a look at what we’ve done so far.

As far as performance, I’ve done less of this than I would have liked. I continued to perform as principal flute with the Ludwig Symphony Orchestra, which is based in the Atlanta area. That has been a great opportunity to play some of the real orchestral standards. I also continued playing in the Northwinds Symphonic Band, also based in the Atlanta area. I truly enjoy playing the band literature, and this is a fine group of colleagues. We also took a mini-tour through Georgia over the summer. When you play in south Georgia, they reward you with syrup! I had the opportunity to perform at Flute Festival Mid-South this spring, which was the perfect reason to take a little trip to Nashville. (Needed a new pair of boots, anyway…) Rhonda Larson was the guest artist, and I enjoyed taking part in the masterclass she led. I also participated in a concert of American music at University of South Carolina Aiken, where I’m on faculty. I never turn down an opportunity to play Charles Ives. My biggest performance was my Newberry College faculty recital at the end of the year, which included works by CPE Bach, Roussel, Jennifer Higdon, Muczynski, Enesco, and Jay Batzner. It was a heavy program but I prefer to go all out in solo recitals.

I was happy to return to my alma mater, the University of Georgia, to present at their Women’s Studies Research Symposium early in the year. I presented my dissertation research on the flute works of Joan Tower. I was also scheduled to present a workshop on effective practicing at the Carolina Flute Summit; however, the event was rescheduled for a date I was unavailable. Hopefully, I’ll be able to participate with the South Carolina Flute Society in the very near future.

I’ve continued researching the flute music of Joan Tower, and I’ve added the flute music of Jennifer Higdon as a primary research topic.

I increased my involvement with the Atlanta Flute Club when I was elected President in February. This group is a well-oiled machine, and I’m happy to be able to jump in and help brainstorm some new ideas within an already-successful group. Some of my specific goals are to increase our membership to include members of various ages and levels and to sponsor even more high-quality programs that give flutists in the Atlanta area access to teachers, performers, and information they otherwise wouldn’t have. This year we’ve instituted the brand new Junior Artist Competition for students through the 10th grade, which complements our well-established Young Artist Competition. We have several great events planned for 2012, so stay tuned!

Having an article published in the Journal of the British Flute Society was a particular highlight of the year. I was thrilled to have my research on Joan Tower, an American composer, published across the pond. It also gave me the chance, through this and Twitter, to meet some great British flutists.

My teaching responsibilities have increased this year, and I have eagerly embraced the opportunity. Being on faculty at two different colleges gives me the chance to perhaps teach a wider variety of courses than if I just taught at one place. (Of course, there are considerable pitfalls to being part-time at two colleges, but let’s focus on the positive.) This year, new teaching included: assisting with marching band, establishing a flute studio class, starting a flute ensemble, and an introduction to music literature class. I’ve also been busy preparing to fill in for the theory professor when he goes on sabbatical in January; I’ll be teaching two courses from the undergraduate theory sequence as well as form and analysis. I’m really looking forward to teaching these classes.

I’ve also done some of the other college stuff besides teaching classes. I’ve been doing quite a bit of recruiting for one college, which has included a lot of travelling and coordination with the admissions department. I’ve also been designated the chamber music coordinator, which means I schedule student performances throughout the community. Now that the big recruiting event for the year is finished, I’ll be focusing on this more in the first semester of 2012.

And the miscellaneous: I’ve got several big projects in the works for 2012. They’ve taken quite a bit of work this year and will be ready to go very soon. I was very excited to be able to judge the Newly Published Music competition of the National Flute Association. I’ve also started taking occasional lessons again with Christina Smith, principal flute of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I can’t say enough good stuff about her – what a fantastic musician!

So what’s in store for 2012? As a musician, who knows. I’ve learned that it’s an unpredictable gig, and you just have to do the best you can. Hopefully 2012 brings a full-time job as a music professor. Regardless, I’m going to introduce three big projects and continue writing blog posts. I’m also looking for a new flute – technically, a new “old” flute – a vintage Powell. I’ll be presenting at the Kentucky Flute Convention in January and the British Flute Convention in August; I’m also organizing the Atlanta Flute Club Flute Fair along with the rest of the board. I’m going to submit proposals to perform and present at as many flute conventions as possible, and I hope to also present at several universities over the course of 2012. I also have an article under consideration that I hope is published this year. My biggest plan for 2012 is to focus on musical collaboration. Several recitals are already in the works, but I want to be able to look back on 2012 and see that performing with other musicians has been my primary focus. It took me a while to learn but the collaborative aspect of music performance is really one of the best things about this profession.

What a year! What are your goals? Want to collaborate? Follow me here or on Twitter @TammyEvansYonce.

 

Samuel Baron

December 24th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

I recently ran across this great little interview with the well-known flutist Samuel Baron (1925 – 1997). He was very active in New York as a performer, teacher, and conductor. He served as President of the National Flute Association from 1977 – 1978. He left behind a very long, impressive list of students; he studied with Georges Barrère, whose pedagogical lineage goes back to Paul Taffanel and Joseph Henri Altès. Baron also was involved with the Bach Aria Group, an ensemble made up of vocalists and instrumentalists who came together to perform the music of J.S. Bach. He first was associated with the group as a performer and later took over leadership after the original founder stepped down.

The entire interview is absolutely worth reading, but here are a few specific highlights that really spoke to me:

- The differences between playing in the orchestra (“You’re playing, really, the heart of classical music, and you must be, from the technical point of view, absolutely impeccable…”), as a soloist (“To be a soloist is really to be up there on a mountain peak…”), and in chamber groups (“The chamber music player lies between these two poles of the orchestra player and soloist… deeply involved in the study of the whole work, in the interpretation.”).

- “[J.S. Bach] sets very, very high goals, and we have to achieve them.”

- Bruce Duffie: “There seems to be a strange connection between Bach and contemporary music, leaving a big hole in the middle.”
Samuel Baron: “That’s correct. All flute players recognize that… Bach is always contemporary.”

- “… I have always been interested in new music… I have found that it’s the most vital and exciting part of being a musician.”

Check out the entire interview between Samuel Baron and broadcaster Bruce Duffie here: 

http://www.bruceduffie.com/baron2.html

 

Enjoy!

Performance Anxiety

December 17th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

For most musicians, performance anxiety is a fact of life. In my own experience, I have performed enough in my lifetime where it is no longer debilitating. It used to be a serious issue for me, and I’m sure I haven’t seen the last of it, either. For me, it was most helpful to perform as often as possible. The more experience I developed, the less nervous I became. It was also helpful to think about performance as my job. Somehow, framing the task in that light takes a lot of the pressure off.

So what else can we do as musicians about a situation that exists and must be faced? To prepare for a studio class last semester, I polled a group of colleagues about their approaches to managing performance anxiety. Their responses are below, and I’ve listed links to blogs at the end of this post for those who have them. (*Guys, if you want to be identified by name, please let me know.)

- A Hornist – Fearlessness in performing is a major topic for my teacher. Here’s his prescribed method: 1) Practice your tail off. Prepare fully. 2) When it’s time for the performance, just before you enter the stage (or audition room or whatever), read your inspiration sheet to yourself. The inspiration sheet is something that you write yourself, and it says whatever you need to hear right before you perform, whether it’s technical advice, motivational, or a combination. 3) Enter the performance space. Put the inspiration sheet on your stand. Quickly read it a second time. 4) Before you play each excerpt (or solo, or whatever), read your segues to yourself. Segues are bits of advice (3 per excerpt, or solo, or whatever) written on post-its attached to your music. Each post-it contains 3 pieces of advice: 2 technical things and 1 reminder of the story you plan to tell with your performance of this particular piece of music. I should also mention that the whole performance process (inspiration sheets, segues, and so forth) happens every time we perform around here, which is often. Besides actual auditions and concerts, we also use the process for performance class every morning (a class where we take turns playing the first few measures of excerpts and the emphasis is on the performance process) and at the beginning of every lesson (where we perform entire excerpts).

- A Woodwind Doubler – In my own life, it seems that performance anxiety has been related to issues outside of music, whether I realized it or not! I would encourage performers dealing with these problems to consult people that deal with all issues of wellness: spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical. Of course, I would second what the previous musician said about preparation being key. There is also the question of how much you have performed in a given scenario. Right now, I have a rough time performing on flute and oboe (with my own reeds). Saxophone and bassoon are no-brainers. How do I fix that roughness? Perform more!

- Another Woodwind Doubler – I like to visualize my way through an entire performance, including walking on stage, taking a bow, tuning, and so forth. And, I try to make the performance day a “good normal” day. I have my favorite normal breakfast, but don’t eat something out of the ordinary; wear clothes that I like, but not new clothes, and so forth.

- An Oboist – My little ritual is to eat a banana about an hour before every recital or audition. It’s probably just a placebo, but some say bananas contain a natural beta-blocker. I even have a picture of myself eating a banana in my wedding dress before the ceremony because I was nervous about forgetting my vows. In all seriousness, though, a professor used to tell me that musicians are giving their audience a gift at a performance and that the audience is just there to receive that from you. For me, this makes the audience seem a lot less threatening or judgmental in my mind. Another professor once told me that he will often pick one person in the audience to play for, like a cute little old lady in the back. He’d say, “She’s my date tonight. Even though she doesn’t know it yet, she’s my date.” I thought that was really sweet. A few years ago, because of those things I learned, I started approaching other people’s performances in this way (just going to enjoy and receive a gift). Not that I was ever critical or nasty before, but I think that once I really became that kind of audience member, I became a lot less afraid of my own audience.

- A Flutist – I definitely feel that preparedness and confidence are #1 and #2 on the anxiety annihilation list. When preparing for super stressful performances, I do a lot of visualization: just fingering through the pieces, eyes closed, picturing playing in front of an audience. My main anxiety comes as I’m walking on stage — not the day before, the hour before, the minute before, but right when I walk out. My best defense is acting confident. I feel as though I am “tricking” the audience into thinking I’m great, even before I play a note. That’s probably what has helped me the most. Well, and then there’s actually being confident.

- A Bassoonist – Exercise! Lower your cortisol levels by exercising to decrease the physical symptoms.

- A Singer – In my basic approach, I say expect to get nervous. Many of us try “not to get nervous,” then get nervous, and get mad that we are nervous. So now you’re nervous and mad at yourself! What we learn is not necessarily how to get less nervous, but to learn how to deal with the nerves when they come.

- A Guitarist – Practice and preparation of the music should always be at the top of the list. Learning how to cope with performance anxiety is just like every other aspect of our artistic development. We learn how to perform. I’m always telling my studio that learning how to manage a performance is just like working on your scales. Every performance situation is different but experience is key. It doesn’t matter if you are preparing for an audition, performance lab, a jury, a recording, a student recital or a major recital — just do it. Play. Perform. Do it often. Start small and go from there. Randomly pull a fellow student into a practice room and play for them, ask any faculty member if they have a moment to listen to you play one piece, play that same piece in seminar, play the same piece twice in seminar, record yourself and analyze the performance, play in church, play in a coffee house, find different venues, volunteer for as many student recitals as permissible. For example, I often encourage my guitar majors to put a 2-3 minute presentation together and offer to perform for the Spanish language classes. Just get out there! Try all of the other great suggestions until you find a coping method that works for you. And don’t forget to breathe.

- A Pianist – For me, body awareness has probably helped as much or more than anything with the actual stage fright. Just being a good observer of what’s going on with your body in the moment… then later, you can address specific issues, such as fingers locking up or not being able to breathe.

- Another Singer – I had a professor who had us practice getting nervous. We would do jumping jacks or jog in place to raise our heart rate. It was also harder to catch your breath and you might get a wee bit sweaty. It was a pretty pragmatic way of training yourself to function in spite of nerves as opposed to “getting over” them.

 

For more from some of these contributors:
http://www.bretpimentel.com

http://www.paulabrusky.com

http://www.musiccollective.org/stephanie-carlson-henke/

Recital Preparation

November 14th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

 

Preparing for a recital can be a daunting process. If you’ve ever given a recital before, you’ve discovered that there’s more to the process than just learning the music. You often collaborate with a pianist or other chamber music partners. You perform in a space that might differ significantly from your usual practice room, acoustically speaking. You perform in formal attire as opposed to your usual clothes. And let’s not underestimate the effect that nerves and adrenaline have on a performance. So what do you do? Here are some ideas.

-          Technical work. As you get closer to the date and the music starts coming together, there might still be some technical spots that continue to give you trouble. As reassuring as it is to keep practicing the music that you *can* play, it’s a smarter idea to focus most of your available practice time on working out the tricky spots.

-          Recordings. Listening to recordings is incredibly helpful. They can quickly clarify questions that you might have about interpretation or ensemble. On the other hand, they might also be a good indication of what you *don’t* want to do. Either way, listening to a variety of recordings is a valuable investment of time when preparing for a recital.

-          The importance of rehearsals can’t be overstated. No matter how easy the coordination between the different parts of a work may seem, there are always those quirky mistakes that can spring up unexpectedly. If you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time in rehearsal, you should be able to minimize those unfortunate mistakes. Write in cues for music in the other parts that you seem to always notice. Even if the performance is going perfectly well, those aural reassurances might be just what you need to set your mind at ease.

-          Try to practice in the recital hall as much as possible. In larger venues, this isn’t always possible since they tend to be booked up all the time. You can still talk to people who have played in the space before. Is it a live space? Muffled? Hard to hear your chamber music partners? Do there always seem to be balance problems? Get as much information as possible before your dress rehearsal and performance.

-          Do some practice run-throughs in your formal clothing. For guys, this probably isn’t such a huge change, but for ladies, this can be a major adjustment. Think about the temperature in the hall. Do you want to wear something sleeveless, or will you be shivering? If you’re wearing a dress, make sure it isn’t too long; you don’t want to trip over the hem on your way across the stage. And don’t forget to think about your shoes! If you tend to stick to flats most of the time, this might not be the time to try out those 4-inch stilettos, no matter how good they look. It’s a good idea to practice in the shoes you intend to wear for the performance itself.

-          I’m a big believer in practicing in small sections. As far as learning technical material, it’s really the most efficient way, even though it requires more focused practice. However, the experience of giving a performance is completely different from working in these small chunks. As your recital date approaches, it’s a really good idea to start playing through your entire program. A couple of weeks before is usually a good time to try this because your technique should be solid and you should be quite familiar with the music. If you can’t make it all the way through, that’s ok. You still have a couple of weeks to build up endurance. Keep trying to make run-throughs of your recital program and try to get a little further in it each time.

-          Basically, preparation is the key to a successful performance. Trying to visualize all aspects of the performance from the actual music to the performance space to your clothing will help you pull off a polished, solid recital.

Practice Tips

November 1st, 2011 § Leave a Comment

The following was a result of a handout I put together for a workshop. More detailed information can be found about these topics in separate blog posts on this site.

 

Establish a solid practice schedule: 

  • Actually block off time in your schedule designated specifically for practicing. Avoid using it for lunch, socializing, homework, errands, sleeping, and so forth. As a musician, practicing is part of your job, so treat it with professionalism. 
  • Write your designated practice time in your schedule. Enter it into your online planner. Make sure it ends up wherever you will see it until it becomes habit. 
  • Arrange your practice time for when you practice best. Some people love getting work done first thing in the morning before anyone else is around to be a distraction. Others work best late at night. Maybe right before or after lunch is when you’re most alert. Figure out when your most effective practice time is and make sure you schedule around that. A reasonable amount of focused practice is better than lots of unfocused practice. 
  • Your practice time doesn’t have to be one large block. Maybe you have 30 free minutes between classes early in the morning. That’s perfect for your warm-up! You can then schedule another practice session for technical work and repertoire, or you can split that work into two sessions. 

When approaching a new piece: 

  • Listen to a quality recording of the piece. Yes, this counts as practicing!
  • Do a quick run-through of the piece to get a feel for it and where the difficult parts are.
  • Actually write the tempos of each problem area in your music (in pencil) so you remember where you are the next time you practice. You will probably have different tempos for each difficult section of the work, but that’s ok. You’ll eventually work them all up to the same tempo. Don’t forget to update the tempo in your music after you’ve made progress.
  • In particularly difficult sections, it may be necessary to break your practice down into just 2 or 3 notes. This may seem too simple, but it’s a much more effective use of your practice time than simply running through the music and making little, if any, progress.
  • Save run-throughs. Start doing more of these as you approach a performance to get a feel for the work in its entirety and to start building endurance. It’s also helpful to do occasionally to assess how well your practice is going, but it’s simply not enough to be your sole practice strategy.

Handling especially difficult sections:

  • First, make sure you’re practicing slowly and with a metronome. Play it as slowly as needed so that you’re able to play the entire passage correctly. This may be half-speed or even slower. That’s ok; you’ll speed it up later.
  • Second, try playing the passage with different articulations. Try slurring the difficult passage, articulating it, slurring small and large groupings, and combining articulations and slurs.
  • Third, alter the rhythm of the passage. If the passage is made up of eighth notes, play a dotted eighth/sixteenth note pattern. Then reverse it and play a sixteenth note/dotted eighth note pattern.
  • Finally, try playing the passage backwards. This gives your brain and fingers a serious workout. Practice this section backwards until you can play it smoothly and comfortably.
  • Once you’ve practiced this difficult section with all of these changes, play it as written. Even after a short amount of practice, you should see considerable improvement.

How do you know when you’re improving?

  • Checking metronome markings. This is a pretty simple way to measure progress, especially in technical passages. Being able to play something a few clicks faster than you could at the beginning of your practice session is a pretty good indication of progress.
  • Being able to play longer passages in a work. Maybe you could play only small portions of a work previously. Maybe you could only make it through one movement before you felt fatigued or lost focus. Suddenly, you can make it through the entire piece successfully. This is a positive sign, especially if you are getting close to a recital date.
  • Noticing an improvement in tone quality. This issue becomes more subjective. Recording yourself, an eye-opening experience, is a great way to hear what your audience is hearing. The sound from the performer’s side of the instrument can be vastly different from what the sound is by the time it reaches the audience. Maybe you’ve been working on tone and you *think* it’s clearer, more resonant, more focused, and so on. Double-check it with your recording device.

Lately

September 18th, 2011 § 1 Comment

 

For me, number 1 is the most difficult to manage. Which give you the most trouble?

Image found at http://www.kerismith.com.

 

 

 

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