This article comes from my former flute professor, Dr. Roger Martin, the Professor of Flute at Tennessee Techonological Unviersity in Cookeville, Tennessee, where I got my Bachelor’s in Flute Performance. During my last few years there, we knew he had started to develop a strange problem – his fingers wouldn’t do what he “told” them to do. We knew he was immensely frustrated with this and I am so glad he has written about his experiences. Focal Dystonia is a mysterious and much misunderstood problem and I reprint his article here with his permission.  You can find out more about the TTU Flute Studio by going to their website:

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The Individuality of Change

December 11, 2012

Photo: Alex Barth

Photo: Alex Barth

We’re in the midst of some pretty big changes.

Multiple orchestras across the US are facing huge deficits and are putting the pressure on their musicians to make enormous sacrifices while hoping to preserve the artistic integrity of these organizations. It is not my intent to discuss or debate the current issues, but instead address how individual musicians may respond to these changes.

The future of classical music has been a breeding ground for infighting in the ranks. Gary Sandow’s blog eloquently discusses these challenges and reading the comments to his blog posts have expanded my horizons since sometimes, the arguments are ones I haven’t necessarily considered. It baffles me how some don’t appear to believe that things are shifting, or they believe that we’re merely in a chaotic part of the cycle and things will return to “normal” soon enough. I think the concept of normal is changing, and we’re beginning to see shifts and artists who are no longer satisfied with what once was.

It’s no secret that I’ve begun creating a new path for myself. I’m shunning the audition circuit and seeking creative freedom. I’ve never felt happier or more liberated. I’m now able to more easily deal with criticism. Rather than doing what everyone else is doing, I’m doing my own thing. Because I’ve done so much soul-searching and have arrived at a musical philosophy that works for me, I feel that I’m better able to look at these issues from a balanced mindset since I have no self-preserving interests in the matter. This is what works for me, and this is where the beauty of these changes lies. Musicians will be empowered to begin making individual choices about their careers, and I believe they will become more able to sustain careers while making a living.

Did I see the current lockouts coming? No. I’m not involved in the orchestral world; however, I am a trained musician. I’m aware of how music schools and conservatories place emphasis on orchestral training. When I think back to my college days, I think about all the time I spent working on excerpts. That training took precedence over the various chamber music experiences or solo performances. I trained to become an orchestral musician. I believed for many years that getting into an orchestra was the pinnacle of a serious music career (that, or making it as a soloist…the orchestral career seemed more likely).

Because I was so involved in this training, my ears were closed to pearls of wisdom that I may have received about doing things my own way. It’s not like I wasn’t interested in entrepreneurial ventures. I even researched taking some business classes, but I wasn’t able to enroll in any due to various issues.

We had a “Business of Music” class that was offered for a few semesters but by the time my schedule allowed me to take the course, the person teaching it had moved on to a different school and no one replaced her since it was an elective. More and more schools are adding essential courses to their curriculum to expand students’ skill sets, but the question still remains of, “What is academia emphasizing? Are students being encouraged to become free-thinking individuals with creative dreams or are they simply being trained in a system that better fits what used to be?”

I’ve instead spent my own time expanding my horizons. I knew what my options were and I faced reality. Every musician’s circumstances are different; however, one thing remains the same. Every musician must take personal responsibility for their career. We’re lucky, you know. We can and should be able to adapt as artists when something happens that knocks us off kilter.

The changes that are coming and that are currently happening will affect everyone individually. I am inclined to believe that funding will begin shifting to smaller groups and individuals. I believe that audiences want to be personally connected to artists and they want to know exactly where their money is going and for what project. Crowd funding successes through platforms like Kickstarter and GoFundMe confirm this. Audiences will have to be cultivated on an individual basis. No audience is the same.

Perhaps the orchestral audience is diminishing, but I don’t believe the audience for the larger art form is diminishing. Be brave, be courageous and above all, find your audience. Be creative in your artistic endeavors, but also approach your art with an entrepreneurial mindset. If a concept or idea doesn’t work, then try something else.

The shifting winds have the potential to either harm or help the parties involved. I want all the musicians to come through these storms unscathed, but I know that won’t be the case.

I’m pretty excited about these changes. If you allow the changes to happen and forget what you thought you knew about classical music, then the future becomes a collective of individual change. Let’s keep it going and support each other.

©Alexis Del Palazzo, 2012

“Art music in America has been like a plant, transplanted in a new place that provides a very different environment from the one in which it originally developed. In this new situation, hitherto unrealized challenges inherent in its nature began to appear, and the special challenge of trying to live and develop under new circumstances may produce a considerable mutation. The plant is sturdy, the environment strange to it, the desire for adaptation great, and the process of adaptation filled with difficulties which at times seem insurmountable and threatening to the life of the plant, yet its wish to develop is very strong.”

Jennifer Borkowski – Elliott Carter and American Music


In your last post you asked me, and the readers, a number of questions surrounding American art music. Because these questions were raised in the context of Elliott Carter’s passing, I’m assuming that you’re using the term “art music” to mean music that’s made in the classical tradition and “American” as something more than a tautology. Arnold Schoenberg, for example, was an American citizen for the last decade or so of his life but I would never call his late works “American music” although I might argue that they were authentically of Los Angeles. So if I understand you correctly, I think that what you’re saying is this: that the particular modality in which Carter worked is really a European style of music but, at the same time, Carter really does come across, at least to the initiated, as a distinctly American composer. If this is your premise, then I think that what you are asking is why this is the case and how does this American character express itself. What are the American qualities of his composition? Where do they reside?

Well, I’m by no means an expert on Carter’s music and I’m not about to embark on a large research project, but I do think that at least part of the answer can be found in the particular vision and experience of America that Carter’s compositional process projects.

Because Carter was somewhat older when his career took off in earnest people often forget that he is almost exactly the same age as John Cage and Conlon Nancarrow. This is important, because Carter’s approach to writing music shares a great deal with both of these composers even if, on the surface, the style and character of Carter’s music seems to be an ill-fit.

Carter’s music, according to Paul Griffith’s obituary, centers on the “self-allotted task of increasing Western music’s rhythmic variety and freeing its form.” While that task may have been self-allotted, it certainly wasn’t unique to Carter and could equally well describe Cage or Nancarrow each of whom, like Carter, was heavily influenced by the rhythmic theories presented in Henry Cowell’s New Musical Resources. Cowell –  compositional prodigy if ever there was one – was himself only about ten years older than Carter, Cage, and Nacarrow.

So in one sense, Carter’s music is American because it deals with issues and techniques that were of concern to American composers at a time when non-American composers were concerned with other issues and techniques. In another way, however, I think that the music of our homegrown Modernists is also American not only for what they wrote, but for the manner in which they wrote it. Like their  counterparts in the Second Viennese School, they used pre-compositional systems to help generate material and guide the compositional process but always with the attitude that these systems were tentative, conditional, open to revision and reinterpretation, and at all times were a solely means that were subordinate to the ultimate end of the individual work at hand. (Cage’s Music of Changes radically problematizes this assessment, but it certainly holds valid for earlier masterpieces such as the First Construction). As majestic an achievement as Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra is, for example, it really seem to be more about demonstrating the power of the twelve-tone system rather than using the twelve-tone system to write a powerful piece. In Cage, Nancarrow, and Carter, systems are made to help aid and guide the composition of a piece and are then disposed of when the piece is done. Aspects of those systems may be returned to in the future, but there is rarely a sense that a piece exists solely to provide repertoire for a compositional method.

Most of us involved in entrepreneurship in the arts have read a lot about the Creative Economy. For some people it is a challenging moniker. For others it’s a concept that represents a beacon of hope. But what I often worry gets lost in the (heated) discussion is whether Creatives are more resilient in the face of 21st century challenges. Richard Florida’s most recent article in The Atlantic Cities provides some powerful evidence that this is in fact true.
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Flying to learn

September 21, 2012

In the spring I decided it was time overcome my increasing fear of heights.  To do this I decided to take a trapeze class at the local trapeze school, Trapeze School of New York Boston.   Along with my husband I went to a Friday morning class.  The instructors gave us an introduction on the ground and then it was time to walk up two flights of stairs to the platform where we would leap into the air on the trapeze.  I was scared!  When it came my turn to fly, the  instructor held my safety belt  as I hung my toes over the edge of the platform.  I was instructed to grab onto the bar with one hand then the other.  The first hand was easy, it was letting go of the scaffolding at my side with the second hand that was hard.  In my head I heard two voices coaching me, the fist said “just do it!”  the other said “this is scary, don’t let go.”  I admit  I almost threw in the towel but I did finally muster the nerve to grab the bar with my second hand.  The instructor to called out  the commands, “ready,” and then “hep,”  and off the platform I flew.   I did it, and admit it was a little bit fun.

Fast forward six months, I am now signed up for an 11-week Intensive Flying Workshop with my Body Mapping & flute colleague, Lynne Krayer-Luke. The workshops will culminate with a public performance on a Saturday evening.  Together we are learning about learning, movement, and awareness.  The process has enhanced the high level learning I do with the flute and my teaching.  These are some of the things I have learned so far:

  • The process of learning a skill from the ground up helps me to relate to my students, some of whom are learning flute playing and music from the beginning.
  • In learning to fly through the air with grace and ease I am learning about movement and how awareness plays such a huge role in the process.
  • The power of the kinesthetic imagination.  I don’t have the luxury of breaking the sequence of moves down while I am on the trapeze so I use my mind to go through the movements.
  • Leaving my comfort zone.  Every time i learn a new trick I am leaving my comfort zone. At first the voice inside my head would say “me do that?”  Then I told that voice, “I will try it once, if I don’t like it I won’t do it again.”  Last week that conversation didn’t happen.  I just did it!
  • Overcoming fear – I am no longer fearful of heights!  The fear didn’t disappear with the first leap, it took about four classes over a month and a half to move beyond it.  I learned that it is possible to overcome fears. Every exposure to the fear can diminish the fear’s power.   Students who are fearful need to perform more.
  • Awareness – cultivating inclusive awareness in the 15-20 seconds that it takes to perform a trick has boosted my overall sense of awareness.   I don’t need to consciously cue it up, inclusive awareness is now is more readily available.

I am excited to learn new trapeze tricks over the coming weeks and equally excited to learn about learning.  Lynne and I will use the experience to enhance playing and teaching.  You can follow Lynne and my adventure at our blog “Flying Flutistas.”

The Quest for Identity

September 8, 2012


Who Am I?  Who do I want to be? What do I want to be “when I grow up”?

Do I have to know?

It’s a tough thought and one I thought I had figured out.  Well, “pride comes before a fall” so says the Good Book, and while I wouldn’t say I’ve fallen, I could definitely say identity is something I”ve been struggling with as of late and could be in the considerable throes of “who am I” syndrome currently.

I don’t mean “who am I” in the hippie, new-agey,  be-one-with-the-universe type way  (though if you are, by all means, rock the identity quest!), but  more in the sense of defining my career, my life, giving myself a solid path, instead of feeling like I’m sliding on marbles going in a thousand directions.

This last year has been a year of upheaval, in a good way.  About February, we made the decision for me to move from Panama City, FL to Nashville, TN.  I have wanted to do this for so long and to keep from going into messy details, I’m thrilled it happened.  I have spent the past five years in PC with my hubby, trying to forge a music career and then a fitness career in a tourist city.

It failed.

Or did it?

Honestly, that’s a bit harsh, I DIDN’T fail.  In fact, I succeeded in the sense that I found out that even in areas where there isn’t a lot of culture, education or desire for healthy living, that I can succeed.  I succeeded in that I really learned the meaning of hard work, of entrepreneurship and in the struggles of trying to make ends meet, in a new city, with a new husband, with no family or friends nearby, in a tourist city where the most popular careers are bartender, restaurant owner, charterboat captain  or selling beach umbrellas to half-naked, completely drunk Spring Breakers, that I did what I could and I find an identity for myself.  Living there forced me to figure out what I wanted to do because performing in an area like that was not a viable option, the demand wasn’t there.  I succeeded by finding a way to merge a second passion into my first passion and create a career.

The road less traveled

When I graduated from grad school with my second degree in flute performance I really had no idea what I was going to do. In fact, I didn’t care.  I got married 6 days after graduation and I said “I’m going to take a break. I’m going to rest and be a housewife for awhile”.  I did.  I was also bored to death within 6 weeks.  Living in a tiny city with nothing to do and no friends, I had nothing to do and you can only clean an apartment so many times. Don’t get  me wrong, I LOVED being married and being domestic, but this girl was born to move, to work, to keep busy and I HAD to find some work.

Hubby was cool with it, but I guess he didn’t realize HOW bored I was, because within 6 months I was working two retail jobs.  The extra money allowed us to go on an anniversary cruise with my parents (1-year for us, 25 years or so for them) which was great, but it also meant I wasn’t getting enough sleep, the hubs and I barely saw each other and practicing? Why? Forget it, no time, and honestly, no reason.  I had joined the local community orchestra which, to give credit, is better than a normal community orchestra, but coming from one of the top 5 public music schools in the nation, it wouldn’t have mattered what I had done, I would have been bored, everything was too easy.  I was able to get a job teaching adjunct at the local college, and I thought “great, I can give a recital!” which I did, and it was nice to have a goal again.  However, when I went back to the dean to talk about doing another recital she told me “I don’t think you realize the level of work that’s involved.  Recitals have to be staffed.” I’m sorry, isn’t that your JOB?  Needless to say, another recital didn’t happen.

During all of this, I let my passion for fitness take over.  I started training much more frequently and doing a lot of research. I decided to get my first personal training certification. Things really came together at the Florida Flute Association convention. I gave my first presentation titled: “From the practice room to the weight room: weightlifting for flutists”.  I found that quite a few people were interested in what I had to say and one woman asked me “do you travel to teach your workshops?”  She was the one who inspired me to create a brochure, design more workshops and really get the ball rolling on fusing my loves of fitness and music together.

Music Strong was born.

Long story short, I’ve presented several more times at both the FFA conventions and at the National Flute Association Convention, each time people coming up to me amazed at what I’m doing, with questions, concerns and wanting information. I decided this WAS something I wanted to do and put more into so I got a better certification, this time through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.  At the same time, I just couldn’t get clients or students in Panama City.  I told the hubby enough was enough, we had to go where the money is, and where I had connections already, so we agreed that I would come up to Nashville after the NFA convention in Las Vegas.


I did, and now I am here, LOVING every minute of it, swathed in myriads of opportunities, and I find that I’m back in the same boat of identity confusion: what do I want to do? What direction to I want to go? What’s my ultimate goal?  Only now it’s different, because I’m attacking the subject of identity from a place of too many opportunities than of too few.

I’m so blessed now to have a growing flute studio, I’ve been asked to give my workshops at some universities across the state and in addition to that, I’ve been asked to be a part of a company called the “University of Change” – a program seeking to reach out to Nashville (and eventually nation-wide) office workers and the obese.  Those with poor posture, with weight problems, people who for one reason or another have not been able to change though they desperately want to, and Music Strong has been asked to be a part of this: speaking at seminars, training clients, leading foam rolling and beginner boot camps.  It’s wonderful, it really is!

Now, I’ve been here a grand total of three weeks and I’m covered in opportunities – here the chance to play a well-attended recital is numerous, I can record that piccolo CD I’ve always wanted to do! I could this, that, over there, that too….

Too much.

So the question for me comes up: what do I want to do? What’s my ultimate goal?

I started life as a musician knowing I had to play in order to be happy, and that’s still true.  But the time it takes to be incredibly good is so encompassing, so time consuming, to be on the level to be able to take auditions with confidence that I could get the job, while not out of reach, recent auditions have re-shown me just how much dedication to the music it takes to get to that level.  It’s a level that is good to maintain, great to be at and easy to let slide if you don’t have a superior outlet for which to continue honing it.

Am I ok with not playing at that level?  Am I ok with not being in an orchestra?

What about teaching, do I want to teach forever?

And what about my beloved company Music Strong? Now that I have all these students it would be so easy to stop investing time in it, but I find myself lighting up anytime a musician (or anyone for that matter) asks me a fitness related question.  No, I want it to grow, it’s too important, I can’t let it die.

So the question remains: what is my ultimate goal? I think when I figure this out, I will have my mission statement.

Yes, I want to perform, I want to teach and I want to train. Can I do it all, I think I can.  Can I do it at a very high level? Yes, I can.  Am I willing to pay the price it takes to get there?  The person in me who strives for excellence says “YES!” but thinking about it, how much time would I have to sacrifice away from my husband, my marriage, my friends and family because I have to practice, study, research, blog, train, etc. etc. etc?

The good news is there is no absolute right or wrong answer to this and each journey is unique. What is the right decision today might not be the right decision at a point in time later down the road.  You can change, your goals can change, and that’s ok.

My identity:

I think for now I’m content to say this: I am a musician, a flutist, a teacher, an encourager, a motivator, a trainer, a person of high integrity and moral values and a passionate person.  Job wise: I’m a musician, a trainer and a soldier.

That’s just fine for now.



Your identity:

The question comes to you: who are you? What do you want to be when you grow up? What is your ultimate goal? It’s ok to change it, but I can tell you this, when you have an ultimate goal and you can make your path clear, taking away distractions is that much easier. Knowing how to answer challenges in life is that much easier  Take some time to think about it.  Who are you now? Who will you always be?

I just finished reading Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup. Full of real examples and even one related to us musicians (Music Teachers’ Helper), I’m inspired and motivated to keep working on my own microbusiness.

Thanks to this book, I’ve realized a lot of my inaction is due to fear and perfectionism. One of my project interests at the moment is creating products to sell online, but what do I sell as a musician (other than music)? I’m exploring this by looking at various options, but I want them to all relate to who I am and what I’m doing at any given time. This book has inspired me to jump in. As a result, I gave myself 7 days to write my first e-book and I did it. You can find the product of this inspiration here. At this transitional point in my life, I have the freedom and ability to just go for it.

The $100 Startup also helped me realize that if I say I’m running a business, then I have to focus my actions based on making money. Focusing my time on 50 percent creation and 50 percent connecting is a relevant formula to take as a musician and begin tweaking your business. Whether you want to bring in more students, begin utilizing a secondary skill to draw more business or you want to introduce an array of products on your site, focusing your time is essential and can be tricky especially if practicing your instrument doesn’t do a lot for income generation at the moment.

I highly recommend this book. It’s an easy read. You can either read through it, or you can work through the book chapter by chapter. The accompanying website,, is a great free resource with downloadable PDFs to help you launch a product or a business. Everything is broken down into plain English and easy, actionable steps.

The beauty of microbusiness is that it’s often just one person. You can accomplish much by getting rid of the organizational red tape, and working for yourself. That in itself is a powerful motivator. If you’re looking for something to inspire and move you forward, I highly recommend that you read this book.

©2012 The Sensible Flutist, Alexis Del Palazzo

After a long blogging hiatus, partly due to a change in my professional role at Mizzou, I’m finally returning to the blogosphere. As the first article in a couple of months, I wanted to write today about the question of artist identity in the 21st century. This is a sprawling topic, but also one that has personal implications for every creative professional.
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Weekly Digest

June 20, 2012

Weekly Digest for June 20, 2012

We’ve all been there:

 “There were two people walking down the street. One was a musician. The other guy didn’t have any money either.”

– Your Buddy who Majored in Business (or Law) (or Medicine)

I’m sure you’ve heard that joke at some point. It’s a common understanding that you don’t major in music for the dough that you’ll be rolling in post-graduation. So what is the Value of a Music Degree? This post is lovingly dedicated to anyone whose friends or family questioned their dreams of going to music school.

Stuff we like to hear:

Louisiana reaps the benefits of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation’s grants for music education.

Money Going to Music Education (for a change)

About the changing faces of nationally reknowned orchestra conductors:

Hey, who’s that kid in front of the orchestra? Who let him conduct? Wait a sec, he’s actually not half-bad… A look at the emerging trend of younger conductors and what it means to be a Maestro.

Kids these days:
“Imagine a culture where the average citizen received a public education in music that made it possible for them to go out as an adult and in their spare time create original music. That world is already taking shape – with or without our current public education system.” – Thomas J. West

So much controversy surrounds Amanda Palmer (Palmer is one half of the Boston-based piano and drums duo Dresden Dolls), but no matter whether you love her or hate her, there’s a lesson in her story for music educators everywhere: It’s time to provide more for the members of your ensemble than the standard three-concerts-a-year.

Beatles forever:

As one of my music professors once said, “The Beatles are the only rock n’ roll worth listening to. They should be required listening for all music students.”

So why is this? We know why they’re popular, but why are they SO popular? As August 22 approaches (marking the 50th anniversary of the first concert consisting of the lineup of John, Paul, George, and Ringo), here’s an examination of what keeps a mere 7-year career alive for 50 years.

It’s time for me to come out…I am a Cultural Creative. Perhaps you are too?

The term Cultural Creative, drawn from research and population surveys conducted over the past few decades, refers to a growing subculture of people whose values and world views are quite distinct from those that most often dominates our politics, media and many cultural norms.  Though still not universally known, the term gained popularity when sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson’s published their 2000 book, The Cultural Creatives. You can read an updated report based on 2008 research here.

Cultural Creatives are actively creating cultural and social change and tend to have a more unifying world view–embracing ecological sustainability, social responsibility, diverse cultures, creative expression and psycho-spiritual growth–and are more willing to challenge the status quo of materialism, cynicism, and, yes, even capitalism.  While less than 5% of the population in 1960, they have now become approximately a third of the American population.

This general area of research and discussion–how we are changing as a culture and as humans–is quite complex, a bit tricky and rarely addressed directly so I can only begin to touch on some key points in this blog entry.  Come join me for a live program in Chicago on Sunday, June 24th when I’ll be leading a town hall-like discussion, sponsored by our local chapter of the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

According to Ray’s research (with similar findings in Europe and Japan), Cultural Creatives have only emerged as a significant subculture since the 1960s, joining the two existing subcultures who’ve been in America for a while, Moderns and Traditionals. Moderns generally rule our culture and media–they value skepticism, scientific expertise, individuality, material success and efficiency. They have long engaged in a culture war with Traditionals, with their conservative, nostalgic, usually religious values. Traditionals believe their way is the right way and that we should go back to a better time, while Moderns strongly resent any infringement on their individual freedom and rights (and usually rights of others) to achieve success.

Cultural Creatives don’t subscribe either to the Every-Man-for-Himself or Us-vs.-Them philosophies of the Moderns and Traditionals. They have a different–and some would say more evolved–ecological, spiritual and global consciousness. They believe that humans are one people, that the earth is our home and must be taken care of, and that we have the power and imagination to invent a better future where the planet and everyone in it can thrive.  Check out the latest published population distribution (chart, left) based on Ray’s 2008 survey. While Moderns are still the largest group with about 40% of the population, Cultural Creatives are catching up, and Traditionals are slowly diminishing in number (“Transitionals” refer to Traditionals whose green, planetary values are moving them toward Cultural Creatives).

“Core” Cultural Creatives at about 16% tend to be the leading change agents, and include artists, writers, thinkers, spiritual- and alternative health-seekers, who combine a focus on inner life and authenticity with a strong passion for altruism, activism and social responsibility.  The “Green” Cultural Creatives tend to be a bit more secular or conventionally religious, but still embrace more eco-conscious, social justice values.  While it’s appealing to put Cultural Creatives in a political category, Ray points out that neither party accurately reflects Cultural Creative values and most often surveys reflect a deep dissatisfaction with both parties.

Despite their size, Cultural Creatives have yet to fully be identified, even by themselves, and because their values tend to be disdained by the dominant culture as too idealistic, most of us are still in a closet that we may or may not be aware of.  More to say about this and Cultural Creatives in my next blog entry on my regular Innovation on my Mind blog.

Finally, surveys in different countries have shown that Cultural Creatives have more in common with each other across cultures and countries.  Some Europeans have taken on the Cultural Creative mantle, with Cultural Creatives online TV and a film, called Cultural Creatives 1.0: The Revolution, which you watch by clicking here.

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