Are You Ready To Change?

April 29, 2011

This post is one of a 3-part series that is also up on my blog which goes by the extremely creative title of Angela McCuiston’s blog.  You can also read Part 2: Do You Have the Courage to Fail and Part 3: The Courage to Succeed

What does change entail? Why are we afraid? This goes along with Failure, being Afraid to Fail and its cousin, Afraid of Success. To which camp do you belong?

We are all afraid of something, whether we admit it or not. We all have strengths and weaknesses, whether we admit it or not! A lot of times these characteristics go hand in hand, and this translates through every aspect of life, be it

  1. Going to a new school in a new state
  2. Embarking on a new relationship
  3. Losing or gaining weight
  4. Changing your body in some way
  5. Changing your beliefs or questioning your values
  6. Learning a new, challenging piece of music
  7. Entering the gym, be it the first time or the 100th time
  8. Accepting compliments
  9. Accepting criticisms
  10. Failing
  11. Succeeding
  12. Embarking on a new workout routine -venturing into the weight room and out of the cardio room

Are you a human being or a human doing?

No matter what, we all have challenges in life and things that can cause us to question our methods of doing things. Having recently been a student and entering the professional world a few years ago, that was a difficult transition. I was stuck in being a “human doing” instead of a “human being”.

What does that mean? How many of you, just like myself, get caught up in doing things to please others, to meet an unwritten quota, to show how busy you are to others just so you can receive validation of your worth as a person? It’s VERY easy to fall into that trap, especially if, like me, you were the good child, the good student, the one who excelled in something and thrived on doing well and pleasing others.

As long as you are also pleasing yourself, this is fine, but there comes a time when you have to take ahold of your actions and say “I don’t need to do X Y or Z to please Ms. X because I have worth as a person, no matter if I am busy or not.” That was tough to accept, and it required change, which is a scary place to be. A “human being” knows he/she has worth because they are alive, a “human doing” is caught in seeking validation from others for their worth as a person. Did you know that it is ok to NOT do?

Change Takes Change (Tangent)

It is ok to NOT do, just as it is ok to do. We get very caught up in being busy, in appearing busy, making things, doing things, how much of it is done to look good to others, to please others, or, as Dave Ramsey would say “we buy things we don’t want with money we don’t have to impress we don’t like”.

Can you translate that to your exercise life? Are you on a desperate carousel of weight loss or body transformation to “please people you don’t like”? How many of you get up at the crack of dawn to spend an hour on the elliptical, prepare meals that are tasteless and don’t satisfy, only to stare into the mirror and think “I’m fat and I don’t like myself”?

If you gave yourself permission to stop right now and change for you what would you do differently? Would you hire a personal trainer to take out off the elliptical and teach you about weights? Would you listen to your body and eat what you know is healthy, but in ways that TRULY satisfied you? Would life suddenly take on new joy and excitement in the journey that you suddenly realized you WANTED to take?

Can you translate that to your musical life? How much practice are you putting in to achieve YOUR OWN goals and not someone else’s? Would you quit torturing yourself over mistakes and start loving your sound? Would your attitude towards performance change to one of “Let me share this music with you that I love, so you can love it too” instead of “The audience is out to notice my every mistake and they’re waiting for me to fail”. Would you still practice 4-6 hours a day? Would you play more? Less? Start a group? Leave a group? What would you do FOR YOU?

So the question remains, what would you do if you gave yourself permission to NOT DO?

(Tangent over 🙂 )

Identify Your Fear

This could be scary for you, but whatever your situation in life (relationships, trusting God, losing weight, learning a new way to practice/learn/play your instrument) you have a challenge. If it’s not right now, it will be in the future, or you have had one in the past. Stop and think for a minute, what change are you facing or thinking of facing? If you choose not to change, is it based on the fear that that change might bring? What is your fear? Some quick examples:

  • Learning to breathe from a new part of your body when you play, thus changing how you’ve ALWAYS played
  • Learning to accept criticism without taking it personally
  • Accepting your body as it is right now (which could be change for you) and if you decide to further change your body, what fears do you have about changing?

Body Awareness

Sadly, body awareness is not something that can be taught or adequately covered in a blog post, but I can at least start the thought for you.

  1. Do this with me, look away from the computer and list off all the feelings you have in your body. Are you suddenly aware that you can feel multiple things at the same time? Close your eyes, does the awareness intensify? Do you feel pain? Do you feel comfort? Do you feel yourself starting to judge yourself for “poor posture”?
  2. Lay on the floor and, starting from your feet, notice where your body is in contact with the floor and where there are spaces. Compare those spaces to each other. Work your way up your body from feet to head to hands. There is no right or wrong in this, how you lie on the floor is how you lie on the floor. No judging, just notice. Does that feel strange to do? To not berate yourself that your feet are not pointing in the same direction, or you have pain in your hips and know it’s because of your posture, etc? The first step in change is awareness. When you become aware, you are no longer judging, and from there, you give yourself the freedom to change or not to change.
    “Awareness is attention that observes what you are doing without pushing you in a particular direction.” – Geneen Roth
  3. Now, think about how you are going to get up, without actually doing it. That should be REALLY weird. As yo find your way to get up, remember, there is no right or wrong, just notice how you do it because really, when was the last time you noticed how you got up and down from the floor?
  4. Try a chair. This I learned from Alexander Technique. Sit in a chair and just observe yourself, how you are sitting, where you are sitting. Put your hand on the back of your neck and stand up. Did you feel the muscles in your neck tense? Sit down and notice if they tense again. I will teach you a way to get up with less tension. Keep your hand on the back of your neck, but this time, before you stand, I want you to lean forward, from your hips (not your waist) until you are leaning far over, so far over that it’s almost hard to NOT stand up. Lean forward from your hips until the momentum carries you out of the chair and you stand up. If you did this “correctly” (haha) you will have noticed that the muscles under your hand in your neck barely tensed at all.

Amazing what you just learned about yourself!

So, you have just learned to observe yourself without judging. Was that scary? Do you have the courage to change now? Think about it, can you go throughout your day NOT judging yourself (or others) just observing? It can be a real challenge to do that and maybe even scary…but it can also be the first step to beautiful change.

As this applies to your instrument, the next time you pick it up to play, or sing, can you be very aware of the rest of your body? Can you think about the backs of your knees while you play? What about the outsides of your elbows? Do you feel the insides of your toes? Notice how you feel before playing, how the instrument feels in your hands, how your body reacts or doesn’t react and then when you begin to play, what changes? How do you feel?

When you are in tune with your body you will be able to pick up on pain and other strange things much more quickly. As my Professor at FSU is famous for saying “Do you feel your feet while you play?”

Have the Courage to Go Into The Fear

In Music or performing: like I said, fear and change can go hand in hand. My teacher at Florida State University, Eva Amsler is an absolute master at helping you learn to not only judge yourself, but learn to observe, have the courage to change and face your fears of failure AND success (mine was somehow the latter!).

One of the things she is big on is performance anxiety. This is HUGE. How many of us get nervous before we perform? Some of us get so nervous we get physical symptoms that prevent us from playing well: shaking hands, shaking lips, queasy stomach, weak knees, etc. She said that one day before she was about to perform, she noticed that her hands were cold. And she thought to herself “I wonder if I can make my hands colder?” She actually TRIED to make her hands colder! And do you know what happened? They got warmer!

Think how much courage that takes. Imagine your symptom is that you get butterflies in your stomach and I asked you, a few minutes before you were to take the stage, to notice those butterflies, acknowledge them….and make them WORSE! It takes immense courage to change, but I can vouch for the fact that every time I have had the courage to make my symptoms worse the end result is that they have lessened. Now, sometimes there is nothing you can do, especially if you are unprepared, but this technique is the result of the assumption that you are as prepared as you can be and all you are doing is acknowledging the part of you that is frightened and unsure and basically giving yourself reassurance.

As this relates to fitness: fitness can be a very scary place and it is easy to become overwhelmed by what we don’t know. We pick what is safe (machines) because it’s what everyone does and we’re less likely to “screw up”. Believe it or not, by those who understand fitness, we see a lot more people “screwing up” on machines than not.

Do you have the courage to REALLY change your body? This will be covered more in the “Are You Afraid of Success” post, but think about it. You desperately want to change. You want visible abs, tight legs, to be rid of the bat wings…what is holding you back? If you are not exercising or eating well, there’s part of your answer, but sometimes what we’re doing isn’t working, but we stick with it because we don’t know what else to do.

This is where it makes sense to hire a trainer – even if only for a few sessions, maybe a week or two, to show you around, help you understand how do lift weight safely, and progress properly. Let me tell you right now – lifting weights (strength training) can be very scary. It will take EVERYONE out of their comfort zone at some point, which is the goal, because you cannot grow stronger, you cannot change your body without challenging your comfort zone. A personal trainer will be there right by your side to guide you so that you do not hurt yourself and that you do not back down into your fear, but that you bust through it.

Now that you know what it takes, are you really ready to change your body? For those who have the courage to embark on the path, they will all tell you it was hard, it was scary, but it was worth it and they are glad they did.

Quotes about Change

“Change happens the way a plant grows: slowly, without force, and with the essential nutrients of love and patience and a willingness to remain constant through periods of stress” – Geneen Roth

“If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.” ~Author Unknown

“Change is inevitable. Everybody has to deal with it. On the other hand, growth is optional. You can choose to grow or to fight it.” – -John C. Maxwell

“There is no improvement except through change. To improve continually we must change continually.”

“You can’t avoid fear. No magic potion will take it away. And you can’t wait for motivation to get you going. To conquer fear, you have to feel the fear and take action anyway” – John C. Maxwell

Change does not happen overnight, no matter how much we want it to. No matter how badly we want to memorize a scale, lost 20 pounds or have a significant other, it simply does not happen with wanting it badly enough. However, when you do want something badly enough, that can give you the courage you need to change your circumstances and make those things happen.

Pretty empowering, huh? 🙂

But with desire and change also comes failure. This is the second part…do you have the courage to fail? And the third part, which might actually be more difficult…do you have the courage to succeed?

Looking for a useful book to share with students? Amy Nathan’s book is packed with tips, stories, resources, and quotes from professional musicians, all geared towards the young musician as the reader.  My favorite section is the woodshedding basics chapter, and it includes a handy list of tips for learning new pieces as well as finding solutions to fix trouble spots. Students can easily find this book in the library or purchase it at low cost, published by Oxford.

Sometimes even at the top of our game we can get stuck in boring, unproductive practice sessions.  Most of us teach our students regularly to vary our practice strategies, but how often do we shake things up in our own practice sessions? Have a great practice strategy not listed here? Notice one that you’ve used with particular success? Or remembering one you haven’t used in a while?  If you’ve got something to add, drop us a line. I’ve added a few of mine at the end.

Practice Tricks to Try

Don’t just practice parts you do well.  Practice those you have trouble with.

Make sure there are no distractions.

Play a hard passage in different rhythms so your fingers become used to playing it a variety of ways.

Play the rhythm on a single note at first.

Playing a passage backwards helps.

Brass and wind players can try a hard passage an octave lower.

Count the beat slowly, clapping each note.

Make up words to go with the rhythm.

Look for patterns.

Sing a passage before playing it.

Use colored pencils to mark note names or flats and sharps if you keep making the same mistakes.

Fingerings are important, figure them out well.

String players should watch fingers to see where they land, to help make sure every note is in tune.

Pianists should practice hands separately.

Cellists can play a hard passage on piano to hear what it sounds like.

When a passage is difficult and you can’t figure it out, circle it and ask your teacher.

Sometimes it is good to take a break and come back to something later.

Give yourself a reward once you accomplish the goals you set for practicing.

Laura’s Practice Tricks

Memorize any tricky spots.

Try playing with different articulations.  If the passage is slurred, tongue it, and vice versa.

Try playing with opposite dynamics.  If the passage is forte, play it piano, and vice versa.

Try distracting yourself by lifting a leg while you play (try it!)

Try dancing while you play.

Get a bouncy ball to sit on to help you become more aware of your breath, body tension.

Break down etudes and pieces into manageable sections (label them A, B,C, etc. or something else that helps you to distinguish sections and set goals for each section)

Record yourself often.

Aim for concert success by giving regular mock performances prior to the big day.

Laura Lentz ©2011

Ask yourself:  am I a social butterfly or a caterpillar?

Demystify support and the diaphragm here.

Improve your sightreading.

And wonder if American Orchestras are an Endangered Species.

Read about the Hymn to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Honor a flute icon here.

And excel to excellence here.

Learn about corporate support for the arts

And ponder and share the 10 reasons to support the arts.

Another orchestra struggling:  New Mexico Symphony files for bankruptcy.

But then read about Colorado Symphony’s pay raise.

Enlighten yourself with Sandow on Orchestras.

And get your heart tugged and your neurons tickled here.

See your brain on multi-tasking here.

And learn what role doubt has for you.

Then push yourself to make a change.

Make yourself a new free website (easily) here and enrich your entrepreneur-side with this.

Celebrate jazz as America’s premiere art form

And have fun on Earth Day with composer John Luther Adams.

Recently, IPAP’s esteemed founder and I were having a conversation about how much we enjoyed Laura Pou’s performance of Varese’s Density 21.5 for solo flute. One of the things that we both responded to was the real sense of personality and ‘expression’ that we heard in the performance, even going so far as to say that she made the music tuneful – an adjective not always ascribed to Varese’s music.

Underneath the video, one commentator says:

“The original is much more ‘mechanical’. She is trying to ‘sing it’ and did it very well, sounds a lot more human. This would be a good test to detect a T-1000 trying to pass for human.”

For those of you missing the reference, a T-1000 is the evil android played by Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 (see below).  I infer three things from this comment:

      1. That other performances of this piece have struck the listener/commentator as robotic and inhuman
      2. That the inhumanity of those performances is rooted in the composition itself rather than any particular interpretative decisions and/or failings – the commentator states that it is the “original” that is “mechanical”
      3. By violating the composition’s supposedly robotic character, Laura Pou’s interpretation is somehow a counterfeit rendition even if the commentator finds her performance to be musically preferable to other renditions of the piece.
Over the next few posts, I’d like to look more closely at different sets of issues raised by Varese’s composition, this particular performance, and the three points I made above in reaction to the earlier commentator.  Future installments of this series will focus on interpretation as it relates to this site’s sub-focus on entrepreneurship, exploring what the score to Density 21.5 does and does not suggest to a performer regarding the work’s interpretation, and, if all goes according to plan, a brief history of the performance practice of Modernist music.  Until then, enjoy Laura Pou’s  performance.  Please also feel free to share any of your own favorite (or least favorite) performances of the piece as well as any other thoughts you might have.
      Is Robert Patrick the face of 20th century music?       IPAP readers decide.

This one arrived in my email box this morning from Angela Beeching’s Monday Bytes which readers should subscribe to if they haven’t already.  This one offers great questions/prompts on brainstorming about goals, and definitely spoke to me after reading Adam Shames’ recent post on Reinvention.

From Angela Beeching’s Monday Bytes, 4/25/11

We just wrapped up this year’s workshops and advising sessions for the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Project Jumpstart has been a terrific pilot program that I’ve been thrilled to spearhead with a fab student team. This past week one of the workshops was on “Career Decision Making for Real World.” The faculty panelists included oboist Linda Strommen who offered a great worksheet exercise she’s done with a number of her students. It’s a series of writing prompts for brainstorming about your goals, values, and future (thanks, Linda!)

The exercise included these questions to ask yourself:

1. Between now and the end of my life, the things I want to do are:

2. In the next 3-5 years (or 1-3), I want to:

3. If I had just 6 months to live, I would live it this way:

Based on these answers, my top 3-4 priorities are:

For more on this workshop, see the article in the Indiana Daily Student.

To subscribe to the Monday Bytes go to

Laura Lentz ©2011

For recent cultural creativity news and views, click here or here. For more on creativity from Adam, use search field (top left) or click on keywords (bottom right) on his Innovation on my Mind blog.

Since continuous “reinvention” has emerged as a hallmark of innovation in the 21st century (and I’m overdue for one), I’m in the process of attempting an actual reinvention. It’s Week 3 with a new identity–which I’m calling the Warrior of Aliveness–and I’ve quickly realized that to think differently and be guided by a real shift of belief from within, I need fuel. I need to plug into some kind of power source befitting a Warrior to keep the process on track.

In my 20s, I remember reading the 20th century spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi, which introduced many westerners to eastern enlightenment through the life of Paramahansa Yogananda, the first yoga master of India to take up permanent residence in the West. Maybe, I thought, I needed to revisit Yogananda’s wisdom to find a renewable power source.

I started by going to several yoga classes, which have generally revealed that I am pretty fat and lazy, with an unfocused mind that tends to drift and fall into its default, un-warrior-like patterns of distraction and complaints.

So to up the ante, I visited the local Kriya Yoga center here in Chicago to get some inspiration from Swami Kriyananda, the foremost living disciple of Yogananda. I was witness to a live feed via Skype of the old bearded man himself, who has many thousands of followers throughout the world.

I listened intently to him for a message that could fuel me or at least steer me in the right direction. The Warrior within awoke as Kriyananda suggested that a life worth living is one in which you discover and pursue a mission worth dying for. You can’t let yourself be limited by the “web of words,” he said, referring to the cultural mindset around us. “Instead, create your own mantra.”

Create my own mantras. Yes.

My inner guidance flickers and changes its message too often. Becoming a warrior is in large part mental, I know, and right now the natural “mantras” of my monkey mind are not empowering me. They change, they doubt. They point out how ridiculous I am. They sabotage with excuses and grievances that sound legitimate but do nothing to improve the quality of my life.

I know that to be equipped to battle for my own aliveness and the aliveness of others, I must think differently and be fueled by a different mindset. But, as Kriyananda reminded me, I have to create it. I have to choose this mindset. I have to rewrite my mental script in such a way that loose wiring becomes hard, and doubt insists on clarity. My power source must, at least in part, come from newly created mantras of my own design.

All right, Warrior, time to create.

Do you ever have that “active audience” conversation? The one about the pros and cons of transforming classical music events that focus on audience participation? It seems like a buzzing topic these days, what with groups like Knight Arts “Random Acts of Culture” and Elizabeth Streb’s Brooklyn-based STREB making splashes by touching ad hoc performances and surprising feats of artistic daredevilry. I was first drawn into such an experience through NEW MUSE’s launch event, the surprise flash-mob performance at the Dane County Farmer’s Market on 9/11/2010:

Read the rest of this entry »

How do you teach networking?

And connect with your target audience here.

A new free way to create a website.

The Art of Scientific and Technological Innovations found here.

Take a guitar workshop with Pat Metheny

Read about Honolulu’s Symphony deal.

And composer Scott Amendola taking on an orchestra.

Ride cellist’s Gautier Capuçon wave of success.

The New Gallery Concert Series presents its THING.

Meet the new Abreu Fellows here.

Read how to get a real education here.

And “What do YOU want from a life in music? and read Opera America’s Entrepreneurship and the Performing Artist: Preparing Musicians for 21st Century Careers here.

And finally, Ask Edna!

Be back in a week….love the IPAP crew

Musicians as Storytellers

April 14, 2011

Even though I finished Dan Pink’s The Whole Mind over a month ago, I’m still stewing around many of his ideas and thinking about how I can relate to them musically.  I wrote a post about Design in Music, and now have been thinking about how another one of his six senses, Story, can be framed from a musical point of view.

Pink’s pop quiz at the beginning of the Story chapter demonstrates how powerful Story is for us.  He asks us two questions, one which asks us to recall a specific fact from earlier in his book.  The second question asks us to remember a story.

Out of the two questions it is much more difficult for us to remember an “isolated factoid”.  But stories are easier to remember, and as Pink says, ‘in many ways, stories are how we remember.” He continues, “that pop quiz gave us a quick glimmer, it runs counter to how our minds work…in the Conceptual Age, minimizing the importance of story places you in professional and personal peril,” and that with facts becoming so widely available and instantly accessible, he adds what begins to matter more is the “ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.”

Obviously placing any musical work in its historical, political, or social context guides performers enormously towards understanding how to interpret a certain work.  More so, it’s truly the story of the work.  If we know the whens, wheres and hows of a composer ‘s life (the context) all this can help us to understand how interpret (or deliver) a particular piece more effectively.

Or how about creating an original context or story-line, or images, or even a dance movement to help reach the kind of emotional impact that you’re looking for in a particular passage?  When learning the Martin Ballade, I still remember a former mentor during a lesson saying, “no, no, no! Here you have to imagine a pig’s head full of blood, dripping!” in order to get me to deliver a particular passage with the right emotional impact.  Being over the top and exaggerating beyond what we have to do while performing may help us to get to where we need to be.

Using story to interpret the music we perform more effectively is something that most of us do already.  However it might be an interesting exercise to do more of this more often and see if it helps us to reach our musical and interpretative goals more effectively, or perhaps it may help us to make a more meaningful connection with our listeners at our next performance.

Laura Lentz ©2011

Go to the story here:


And some related links here:

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