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: ttuflutestudio.yolasite.com

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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

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.”

A year ago I began this blog after returning from Europe, living eight years in a new country, wearing different and new hats as a young mother, expatriate, music and flute teacher in an international school, sometimes feeling successful in some cases and in other cases, not so much.  Living in another country, especially in a part of that country that pushes your comfort zones, is a fantastic experience, but it also challenges in unexpected ways all around.

Upon coming back to the US I felt both overwhelmed and energized by the buzz of opportunity as a musician and teacher compared to Italy, and I ran with it.  I undertook flute studies again and learned more about body awareness, performance anxiety and the entrepreneur side of being a musician and really felt I made up for some gaps in my own undergraduate and graduate studies here in the US during that time.  I was amazed by all the varied chamber ensembles and the new paths they were creating for future musicians.  I loved the air of possibility here in the US which I missed so very much and really felt at home again.  This air of possibility feels sometimes full of naivete, and is definitely connected to that American idea that the individual can rise up and do what he/she feels, given the individual’s spirit to go at it in the right way. It’s a combination of being talented, having the right support, and taking some smart decisions in your life to let you get to where you want to be.  Here there are many opportunities, albeit many are for little or no pay, but it’s possible at least to do the thing you dream of if you’ve got all the right ingredients in your court, or if you are willing to settle for less pay and maybe a less glamorous lifestyle too (depending on how you define glamour, of course).

Being a free-lance musician has its tolls and doesn’t (at least for me) always mesh well with family life.  There’s no health insurance.  There are rehearsals in the evening.  The pay is sometimes little or non-existent.  Many musicians do land orchestra jobs and good college positions and they don’t live life on the edge as freelancers.  We’ve talked over and over about how these are few and far between and so the need to create a niche, do your own thing, be innovative…this is where we come full circle to talk about how being innovative can help you to make a living.

OK so the economy stinks and competition is tough, and in particular for flutists we are all so awesome that it’s hard to stand out.  Many of us love to teach and we can make a decent living from that (aside from the health insurance) and play in a local chamber group or orchestra and feel that we’re contributing to the community and still feeding our art and passion.  I’ve been inspired by many musicians going down the administrative side of things and, from my time in Rome where I was able to tap into the administrative side of being a musician, I have been trying to navigate my career in that direction over the past two years since coming back.  However at the same time there’s always been a part of me that has been nervous to go down this path.  It seemed standard, boring, maybe even a sign that I failed as a musician?

I’ve just accepted an administrative position with a highly respected music school in the US. The pay isn’t fantastic but I accepted it considering opportunities into the future, the benefits, and networking possibilities.  I have been questioning the whole innovation thing though.  I mean, am I settling into something that is in fact standard and about as uninnovative as it gets? Yes, in some ways maybe.  At the same time being innovative can also mean exploring new ways for yourself, and going down unexpected paths that seem to help balance out all different aspects of the life, from being a parent to an artist to a teacher to a human being.  Having another source of steady income and health insurance lets us breathe easier, and lets us plan more into the future. I will finish early, still have time for teaching and playing and for being with my family, time for exercise, and I will be a part of a fantastic community of musicians and people who support this community of musicians.  I’m sure that by going down a new path that provides me with security and a growing network of people who love music that it can’t be bad, and for sure by doing this new thing I’m being innovative for myself and my family and what’s right for us at this moment.  And so I’m going to wear that new floppy hat for now and I’ll let you know how it goes.

In my last post, I addressed the circumstances facing the Richmond County Orchestra (RCO) high school directors Trent Henderson and Philip Rhodes in the spring of 2003. Directing a large orchestra with a wide gap between the most accomplished musicians (who were ready to master music on GMEA* level V and beyond) and the less experienced ones (who may have been struggling to play GMEA* level IV) inspired them to try something unprecedented; they created a new orchestra on a temporary, invitation-only basis for the remaining couple of months of the school year. Eventually this group became the Richmond County High School Chamber Orchestra.

“Create a new orchestra? Is there room for that? Do we have the time to carve out of our already hectic schedules for that? What will the other faculty members think?” Read the rest of this entry »

Set Your Goals, Set Your Life

February 21, 2012

“In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”

— Robert Heinlein

I think this is a brilliant quote – so obvious and yet, how many of us get caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day living saying we wish we could do this or that or go here or there or get this or that done, but it never happens?  Then we look around and suddenly 5 years have gone by?

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Begin It

October 27, 2011

By Ariel Friedman, guest blogger

This post was originally published at NEC’s entrepreneurial musicianship alumni blog on 10/27/2011, and is reposted here with permission from the author. IPAP thanks Ariel Friedman for sharing this post.

My grandfather’s favorite acronym was D.I.N.  Do It Now.  While this has always been second nature to me, it has come with a cost.  I answer emails and make phone calls promptly, not because I want to be responsible, but because the thought of having to do them later is more than I can bear.  The problem is that this cycle does not end.  There will always be emails to write, bills to pay, phone calls to make.  D.I.N. turns into D.I.A.T.T. (Do It All The Time). And thanks to my iPhone, these days I check email more frequently than I am willing to admit.

I think there is a balance that can be found here, but the point is that my grandfather actually did know what he was talking about and it wasn’t necessarily about life’s endless errands.

Recently I was teaching a cello lesson in which my student was expressing frustration. She wanted to be improving faster, but due to her frustration she was not slowing down to practice details, to delight in her instrument, or to find peace in the journey of learning. She told me that, within the last year or so, she and her partner had taken up beekeeping and that she felt a similarity between learning cello and learning how to keep bees; both are enshrouded in mystery, she said, until you begin to experience them. The more you approach the hives, the more you sit down with your instrument, the easier they get, the more sense they make, the more nuance you are capable of achieving. Then she made a beautiful analogy: Let’s say you wanted to be a botanist but you had not yet learned anything about plants.  If you noticed a tree of interest, you might go up to it, study its bark and its leaves, then look it up in an encyclopedia.  But once you delve into the learning process and botany becomes a part of your life, you will eventually walk down the street and be able to point out the flora. Ah, there’s a maple. Here is a spruce.

In other words, if there is anything in this world that is pulled toward your heart, why not do it now? As musicians and artists, we have the ability to choose to construct our lives the way we want.  I still believe there are a lot of “shoulds” around the careers of musicians. Many people from a classical background are expected to go to school until they get a job in an orchestra.  This is what I thought I would do from an early age, but at a certain point this stopped feeling right to me. I realized I had other choices and I wanted to experience them.  When I first started playing fiddle tunes on the cello at age eighteen, I felt like I was flailing around. Learning by ear was hard. My musical rug had been ripped out from under me.  As I’ve continued on my search, I notice this to be true over and over. My two years at NEC took everything I thought I knew about music, shook them up and dumped them on the floor.  Instinctively, I dropped to my hands and knees to clean up the mess, and here I am, still on the floor, slowly and steadily lining up the broken pieces. Without a doubt they will get scrambled again and again, only each time, I will have a new scrap of knowledge to add to the mosaic of my life.

We must take risks to be in this profession and this, as I am finally realizing, is the real meaning of D.I.N.  My grandfather’s favorite quotation was by Goethe:  “Lose this day loitering and it will be the same tomorrow. If you can do it or think you can do it, begin it.  Boldness has magic, power and genius in it.” To do it now is to throw oneself in, one hundred and fifty percent. Eventually the flailing becomes graceful.  The bees become approachable.  The piano keys start to look like chord shapes.  Making a life as a musician becomes a reality, one day at a time, easier and easier, broken piece by broken piece.

You can read more from Ariel and other authors writing about Entrepreneurial Musicianship at http://necentrepreneur.posterous.com/

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