Flute Punch

I keep coming back to this wonderful post of John Wion’s on vibrato. I love his detailed analysis of vibrato speed and width, but of special interest to me are the sound samples. Hearing samples of great players slowed down quite a bit (300%) has been very useful not only to me, but to my students as they are learning to understand what is happening to the sound and air during vibrato production.

Every time we perform, we make ourselves vulnerable. In the beginning, we think we are subjecting ourselves to the scrutiny of others. Then one day, we realize it’s ourselves we fear most. Maybe it’s because we can’t escape our thoughts — we keep reliving a bad performance, wondering why we didn’t do better. But I think it’s also because we don’t ever know if some experience will tear open our belief in ourselves and rip out our fundamental sense of purpose and direction.

If that is where you’re at today, musically or otherwise, take the time to watch these videos of BrenĂ© Brown. They are worth it.

BrenĂ© Brown’s TED videos on vulnerability

 

Solo & Ensemble contest is just a few days away, and as always, it has me thinking about the inner game of music performance. Here’s a few humble thoughts on the subject.Wonder Woman!

  1. Be honest about root causes of anxiety. I believe musicians walk around with a shared, unconfessed fear: “What if I botch this performance, thereby wasting countless hours of my life I spent practicing?” It is a risk we take as performers, and we can do 2 things to address this fear: 1) Perform multiple times, not just once. 2) Reflect on the improvements we made to our musicianship over the course of weeks/months practicing that will serve us in the future, not just for one performance.
  2. Practice focusing through distraction. Have some people distract you — cough, talk, throw cotton balls, whatever. Anxiety is just internal distraction.
  3. Rebrand anxiety as excitement. Trying to stifle nerves will make them worse. Instead, say to yourself, “I’m EXCITED!”
  4. Go Wonder Woman. Standing in the Wonder Woman pose for 2 minutes has been clinically proven to boost confidence.
  5. Laugh. I think people play better right after laughing. Grab a cell phone and check out Awkward Family Photos, or stupid YouTube videos, and have a good belly laugh before you perform.
  6. Enjoy others’ performances. Don’t just show up for your performance time — stay to hear more music and support your friends and classmates.
  7. Remember that people want you to do well. I think this is even true of your competitors, whether they realize it or not. Think about the last time you watched anyone perform, live or on TV. You wanted them to do well, right? I believe as human beings, we’re programmed to feel this way.
  8. Own your piece. When you are ready to perform, at that moment, you are the expert in the room on your piece — you, and no one else.
  9. Be proud of yourself. Assuming you have spent time and effort preparing, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Allow yourself to enjoy being the musician you are. There will always be someone better than you, and someone worse than you. What matters is that you are alive and participating in the most distinguishably human act of creating art!
  10. Aim to achieve the highest compliment possible. And what is the highest compliment? Getting a 1 from the judge? Beating out your competition for State nominee? Those things are great, but not the ultimate compliment. In my opinion, if someone says to you, “What was the name of your piece? I really like it,” that is the highest compliment. It means you presented music that others enjoyed.

Thanks for reading, and good luck to all the students performing this weekend!

My complaint about the performing arts has always been that they require an enormous amount of practice time in proportion to the actual amount of performance time. Enter this article on increasing practice time productivity by 50%!

The run down: If we sit down to practice with, say, 3 excerpts of music, we tend to practice the first except over and over for the first portion of time (say, 10 minutes). Then we go to the second, and spend the last portion of time on the third. The pattern is aaaaaaaa, bbbbbbb, ccccccc. This seems most efficient to us. The research says otherwise, though, indicating that alternating through the excerpts is more effective in the long run, which means our practice pattern ought to be abc, abc, abc, abc, or something even more random. We will still end up practicing each excerpt the same number of times, but we will have forced our brain to pay better attention to each repetition.

A friend sent this Craigslist advert to me. It’s easily the 2nd most entertaining thing I’ve read all week.

“They call the trumpet “God’s Instrument.” The instrument that takes a month to learn and a lifetime to master. Forget that. I’m giving you the chance to own “Satan’s Instrument.” The instrument that takes a second to hate and a lifetime to get used to. If your goal is world domination, getting the ball rolling on the apocalypse, or simply disarming someone who’s a little too “rapey,” this miniature flute of terror will hold the game down. And how.

“Brought to you by Lucifer himself, this 4SP Silver Plated Gemienhardt Piccolo will serve his evil minion well. From it’s compact arthritis-inducing body this pipe will unleash a sound that can bring entire crowds of people to their knees in pain and surrender. If you’re thinking of starting a bloody coup, leave the AK-47s and sarin gas at home son, this picc is all you need.

“This instrument has the ability to sing an A five lines above the staff so crisp and clear that if you’re not careful may actually cleave your conductor’s brain clean in half. It’s highest note is one only dogs can hear, that composers have dubbed “X.”

“Apart from the oboe, this is the only instrument able to kick a field goal of pain right between the goal posts of your unfortunate target’s neurons, resulting in synaptic misfires, blown mental fuses, and a complete breakdown of all left brain activity, leaving the right brain to writhe in pain and confusion whilst scrambling all bodily motor functions. Any soul unlucky enough to wind up on the business end of Beezulbub’s piccolo will instantly be reduced to the fetal position and revoked of their right to free will.

“Aside from violating several Geneva Convention protocols, this wailing weaponry can produce frequencies that wreak havoc upon others by causing:
– sudden unexpected nosebleeds
– aphasia
– heart palpitations
– aneurisms
– loss of sanity
– unexplainable rage
– spontaneous combustion
– abandonment of the will to live
– anal leakage

“It’s a common mistake to think that the piccolo also has side effects on it’s user. Many claim it causes acute narcissism, but in reality the only people drawn to this instrument are already delusionally narcissistic, have serial killer tendencies, and show traits as promising future dictators.

“Because of this instrument, I now rule over my own sovereign island, where I preach from balconies and lounge in my throne poppin’ bottles while getting fanned with palm fronds waved by ridiculously hot cabana boys. Tomorrow’s forecast: Whatever the hell I want.

“Since I’m livin’ the dream, I’m retiring from my reign of terror and passing on the torch. Being evil is an arduous, exhaustive effort, and this musical scepter cannot be played by your average whitebread vanilla villain. Only the most cunning, dextrous, morally ambiguous, and questionably sane may apply. Who among you is worthy?

“$300 obo. Willing to throw in a box of gravel and ship.”

If you saw my previous post, you might think I didn’t enjoy being at State. I actually did enjoy myself quite a bit, taking in wonderful performances by students in small woodwind ensembles and solo flute. I wasn’t able to hear all the soloists, but following is a sampling of the solos performed, including 3 that were new to me!

Khachaturian, 3rd mvt. (Yes, a high schooler was playing this, with great articulation, nonetheless.)

Taktakishvili, 3rd mvt.

Doppler, Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy

Deutilleux, Sonatine

Gordon Jacob, Concerto

Hue, Fantasy

Gaubert, Fantasy

This weekend, I had the privilege of watching 3 of my flute students perform at State, one on a solo and two on a duet. It has been truly wonderful to teach them. I feel this way about all my students, actually. I hope I have been as much a blessing to all of them as they have been to me.

At any rate, I was remembering what it is like to perform in these high-pressure situations, especially as a student. If I could say one thing, it would be this: Keep it all in perspective. Because nearly all the students in your category are competing at a high level, a little mistake matters (or seems to matter) more than it should or actually does. I watched one student perform the Khachaturian and could tell she wasn’t truly happy with her performance at the end, which is a shame, because it was well-done and quite enjoyable.

State is still important – it pushes high achievers to their extremes. But it’s too easy for the 19 students not placing in the top 3 to see themselves as having lost the game, instead of realizing that the act of going to state is the reward. Honestly, regionals were more fun – students run around to all the rooms watching their friends perform, encouragement and support is high, performers get to work with an adjudicator, and teachers get to see colleagues they haven’t seen in a year (or more!).

So my conclusion is that State is great, and necessary for those students considering a career in music performance, but regionals is where my heart lies. It is more true to the spirit of music education, which is to say that a little competition is good, but cooperation and growth is even better, and students who put effort into playing will be rewarded with personal satisfaction and the enjoyment of their audience.

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