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

Read the rest of this entry »

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 title of this post is my vision statement. My 5 year goal is to create a new identity for myself as a physical therapist, Andover Educator, flutist, teacher and writer. How did I get on this path and how do I plan to do it all?

Musicians are quite accustomed to wearing many hats. In addition to just loving music and wanting to engage with it for a living, I’m also attracted to how my routine isn’t so routine. I can be doing any number of different things in a normal day, and I love that. It keeps things fresh.

So maybe you’re saying, “OK. I get that you’re a flutist, teacher and writer but what’s an Andover Educator and how is physical therapy related?” Read the rest of this entry »

How I Founded A Flute Choir

October 17, 2011

Flute Choirs are kind of new territory for me.  Sure, I played in them all through college, and in grad school even conducted them…but founding one once you’re out in the “real world”?  New ballgame.

After moving to Panama City, FL, I wanted to grow the flute scene here.  What I found is that there really wasn’t much going on.  And, to my annoyance and frustration, I found that I haven’t seen much effort or encouragement on the part of the band directors in this area either, so my job was doubly hard.  I started a Flute Day at a high school and that had a grand run of 3 times.  I think I had somewhere between 1-3 people show up each time?  Out of a county of hundreds of flutists?  They gave me the excuse of “well, the kids are busy.” or “they’re at the beach or they have jobs or or or or”.  I don’t care what the excuses are, the excuses are still excuses.  The kids chose not to come and the band directors chose not to make it mandatory.  In TN, where I come from, I would have had probably 20-50 students come because it’s just that important there.  You are EXPECTED to take lessons and go to extracurricular music activities, etc.  Here, I have trouble even getting the band directors too call me back.  They don’t make it a priority for their students, and the parents don’t see it as necessary, henceforth the kids don’t care much either.

So, seeing that there was a large  pool of people not involved gave me the opportunity to mope and say “woe is me, there are no opportunities, I can’t do anything here” or go in a different direction.
I went in a different direction!

I play in the Panama City Pops Orchestra, a community orchestra that is better than the average bear.  I feel very blessed to be able to play with them and have a good flute section.  So I started asking them if they would be interested in doing a flute choir.  They all said yes, they would commit and I asked around everywhere to see if I could find other adult members.  We have gone through some changes in personnel, but overall, these founding few have stayed with us and we’ve developed a choir!

What were my steps?

I am by no means an expert in this area and I’m learning more each day I go about this. But this is what I did and what I’m doing so far so that maybe you can learn from this as well.

  1. Recruit members I asked around to find members, got their contact information and sent them all preliminary emails asking if they had preferences for times/days.
  2. Find a Rehearsal Venue Found a band director that would let me hold rehearsals in their band rooms.  The school board has since decided they will charge groups wanting to use their facilities so we’ve moved to a choir member’s house for rehearsal.  You HAVE to find a place to rehearse!
  3. Pick a Consistent Time This can be easier said than done.  We went around and around in trying to pick a time and a place and ultimately, since I was the leader, I had to make an executive decision and say when it would be.  If you cannot commit, I’m sorry.  We did our best to work with everyone’s schedules, but of course not everyone can be accommodated: be prepared for that.  We started out with an hour and realized that we just didn’t have enough time, so now we’ve migrated to two hours once a week.
  4. Repertoire I was very fortunate in that all the flute choir music we have has been donated by various members.  Ask around, see who has trios, quartets or whatnot and use what you have.  Double parts.  Buy music only when you really need it.  If one person is generous enough to buy music for the group, great, but if not, don’t be shy about mentioning that we need funds to buy music, what can we donate to that fund and is there anything specific we’d like to get?  With rep, also be really aware of scoring.  We have a unique situation in that we have more instruments than members!  We have 2 altos, 2 piccolos, 1 bass and everyone has a C flute, but we only have 8 members, one of which is only in town for a few months out of the year.  So, 8 members and 13 instruments?  Kind of a neat problem to have…but then you look at how some pieces are scored and it’s for 6 C flutes, alto bass, piccolo, etc. and you don’t have enough people even though you have the instruments.  Don’t be afraid to double on trios and be the conductor, or transcribe parts from madrigals and choral music.  Put that music education/theory/instrumental class to good use!
  5. Get Goals for the Group Do you just want to get together to play or do you want to perform?  Why are you getting together, what do the members want out of the group?  We’ve decided we want to perform, so after many rehearsals, go out and either find or create gigs.  My members mentioned a LOT of great places to play that I didn’t know about because I’m not from the area: the library has a grand piano and hosts groups, an historical house that hosts concerts, FBA meetings (band directors meetings), partnering with schools to play on their school concerts or at an orchestra concert, nursing homes, hospitals, local events and fairs, etc.  We are going to be performing 15 minutes at an FBA meeting, at a middle school concert (with the middle school kids joining us on a piece), a full concert at the historical house and as prelude music in the reception hall before the Pops Orchestra Concert. We have plans to submit to perform for the Flute Flute Association Annual Convention in coming years, but we need some local performances under our collective belt first.  Be creative.  You don’t have to have a full hour long concert where people just come to see you.  Your goal is to get in front of people and get known!
  6. Set Deadlines and Be In Constant Communication After every rehearsal I send out an email to the group reminding them of what we did, what we need to work on and what we will do next week, this way they can be practicing and preparing for it.  I also let them know when our concerts are, remind them what we are going to be playing and since we’ve now committed to them, we have to be prepared to play at our highest level!  Don’t be afraid to set the bar high – set the bar too low and you’ll get what you asked for.  Set it high and be amazed.
  7. Advertise I have included our name as a flute choir everywhere I can think of: on my blog, webpage, facebook notices, listed on the FFA website, NFA website – and I’ve had people find us to join us because of that.  Hobnob and network with various band directors and tell them to send you their star players.  Can’t get them commit?  Our next plan is to go play in the schools.  Get a middle school or elementary school assembly and play as a group or get your choir together and go on a school tour during the day, hitting a bunch of high schools.  Play for the kids, get them to ask questions, mention you teach lessons and you are an open group – they can join, and LEAVE SOMETHING IN THEIR HANDS or they won’t remember you were there when they get home.
  8. Don’t be a Taskmaster, but Don’t Be Afraid to Say What Needs to Be Said or Do What Needs to Be Done Remember, people are doing this because they enjoy it, so don’t take a holier-than-thou approach or constantly criticize.  However, there is that fine line that needs to be walked because you don’t want to not criticize at all. Be tactful in pointing out mistakes or “opportunities for improvement”.  Ask for group feedback.  Step back every once in awhile and let them solve things.  Remember, this is your group if you want it that way, so you are the leader.  Lead, but still serve the group in leading.  Say what needs to be said in a tactful way.  Pick your battles, sometimes it’s the right time, sometimes it’s not, so walk the fine line of not being a taskmaster or a pushover.

These  are the things that I NEED to do now.

  1. Advertise This one really never ends.  It doesn’t have to be expensive but it needs to be out there.  Try setting up a Facebook page, a Weebly free website for the group, maybe a blog with what you are doing, business cards or flyers.  Constantly be in contact with people and have your group at the forefront of their minds.
  2. Get a Name and Get it Known we already have a name: The Emerald Coast Flute Choir, but is it known? That’s another story.  Let your members know you have a name and get them to hand out things and talk about the group with the name, not just “hey we have a flute choir and we could come play”.  It sounds much better to have a name.
  3. Realize that you don’t have to be formal  If you want to look like the group in the first picture that’s fine, it depends on what your venues are and the image you want to project.  Us?  We live in a beach town, so while we want to be known as professionals, we don’t want to be too “professional” that we alienate our audiences, do you know what I mean?  Example: how we set up.  Due to how we rehearse and our limited space, we don’t play in a straight line.  We are more in a circle spread out around the room.  This has led to the thoughts of “how will we set up on stage”?  Considering we all have different parts at different times, it would get annoying to constantly be moving between pieces and honestly, I think we play better and are forced to listen more by staying in the same spot and standing next to someone who doesn’t have your same part.  So, we just might set up around the room instead of in a line.  We’ll see 🙂  Point is, be flexible and find what works for YOUR group.
  4. Include the local musicians whenever possible We have pieces that call for instruments we don’t have like string bass, claves, various percussion instruments and narrators.  If you are going to a school, include their band director, the kids will LOVE seeing their teacher actually perform.  We have people coming from a town 2 hours away to play with us occassionally, include them whenever possible.  Again, be flexible and include your audience if you can.

Um, I’m sure there are more, but that’s what comes to mind.

Biggest thing that was a hurdle for me: picking a date to start and then just launching the thing and seeing what happens.  It won’t start if you don’t, so pick a date, be in contact and go for it!

NFA Recap

September 15, 2011

So I’ve been back from the convention for a few weeks already, and I haven’t found the time to be able to write anything!  My head has been swimming with thoughts and ideas, but, fortunately for me, business has picked up in a big way and, well, I had a lot to catch up on.  You see, the last day of the convention, an article about me and my boot camp class was run in the Sunday paper.  A full page full color spread in the Lifestyle section!  I’ve seen an increase in personal training clients from that, so I’ve been up to my eye balls in writing plans, training clients, running my boot camp classes and responding to the emails and questions I got from NFA.  I have put out a newsletter since then, which gave a big update on the convention, and if you aren’t signed up for my mailing list, you can do so in the bar to your right where it says “sign up for our newsletter” and I will send you the latest one!

Oh yes, and if you want more information about my boot camp classes (the one to the right was taken at our beach location) you can check out the new website! It’s at www.PCBeachBootCamp.com  I’d love it if you left a comment and can give me your feedback.

So what happened at the NFA?
Presentations!!!!
As stated in previous blog posts, I was very blessed to have been able to give two presentations.  The first was on Friday at 5 PM and was a panel discussion titled “Injury Prevention and Pain Management”.  My fellow panel members, Dr. Susan Fain, Karen Lonsdale and Lea Pearson along with myself all spoke on different topics relating to playing the flute and some suggestions on overcoming the special health challenges it presented.  Lea talked about breathing and body mapping, Karen talked about the ergonomics of the flute and how to set up for practicing be it solo or in a band setting and Susan talked about some common injuries and solutions to them with posture and stretching.  I, of course, gave a quick overview on the benefits of strength training for flutists.  I had so much to say and sadly, I ran out of time – 10 minutes just isn’t long enough!

We had a really wonderful turnout and I did not have enough handouts for everyone to get one, so if you would like a copy of my handout for this presentation and did not receive one, you can download it here:

Using Strength Training to Prevent Injury and Improve Pain

My second presentation was just me and it was on Sunday at 8 AM.  I went far more into depth about the benefits of strength training for flutists, and then demonstrated proper weight lifting form (which we all did together), did a little body mapping in finding where our hips are (here’s a hint, it’s not the bone that sticks out) and then we did some sample stretches and some activation exercises.  It was a lot of fun, and again, I ran out of time.
The easiest way to for me to remedy my problem is for flute clubs and associations to hire me to come out for a day or a weekend to give a workshop and then we can really go  in-depth about how things work, and do some exercises together!  In fact, I had a few people approach me about doing that very thing so be on the lookout to see me coming to your area and if you would like me to come to your area, you can get in touch with me by emailing me at angela@musicstrong.com or via the contact link on my website: www.musicstrong.com

Again I had a great turn out and ran out of handouts so if you would like a handout and didn’t get one, you can download it here:

Lift, Play, Love : Basic Weight Lifting for Efficient Flute Playing

I also had a “muscle man” image that I used that went along with both handouts. You can get him here:

Career Development Workshop

I am very grateful to have been selected as a participant in the 2nd Annual Career and Artistic Development Committee’s Career Development Workshop.  The room was not nearly big enough to hold all the people and we had people spilling out into the hallway trying to get in!  We learned a lot of things: from how to write a mission statement, to a bio, to a cover letter, to how to take a good publicity photo and what NOT to do.

In addition, I and two other people got to present our business ideas to the group and ask for help on certain parts of our projects.  I presented my business Music Strong, and while it is not exactly in its fledgling stages and I have a lot of the work done, my biggest problem is in reaching my audience.  I needed help finding out how to go to where the flutists are and where the people who need me are.

I got a LOT of positive feedback from people who heard me; compliments on the business concept, comments on how excited people were that I was doing this and overall enthusiasm for my business.  I also got asked to come give a presentation in Texas, so be on the lookout for information there!

Other wonderful happenings

I had a lot of great things happen at the convention.  Besides my name getting out there and being recognized, I was also asked to help man the Performance Health Committee’s booth.  I was more than happy to do so – not only for the opportunity to socialize and network with my fellow health professionals, but to answer questions and help the myriad of people who came by with health questions.  It is so rewarding to be able to look at someone, listen to their problems and even if you cannot diagnose or fix their problems, you can give them HOPE and that is super exciting.

I made a lot of new connections, new friends and got a lot of great music I hope to be performing soon.  The convention was a success in every way and I’m very blessed to be able to have been a part of it. Now I’m working on presentation proposals for next year for Vegas!

If you went to the convention, if you got the chance to come to these presentations, workshops or even if you didn’t, I’d love to hear your comments about it and if you have suggestions on future articles or presentations, I am welcome to those as well.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures from the convention.  I hope you enjoy!

See you in Vegas!

What Interests You?

May 22, 2011

So as you all know, I have two main passions when it comes to career: Music and Fitness. I’ve gone into mostly uncharted territory with promoting myself as a Musician Health Coach, or a personal trainer for musicians. What does that mean to you, though? What does that mean and what do I do and how does that actually benefit you?

  • I am a NASM certified personal trainer. This is one of the top rated personal training certifications in the country and, along with the NSCA, is considered the gold standard. In addition to this, this particular certification agency focuses on addressing the different muscle imbalances that everyone tends to develop – especially those who do repetitive motions like driving, sitting at a desk or computer, practicing an instrument, etc.
  • I am a classically trainer professional flutist. I have studied music performance for a long time, ending (so far) with getting my Masters in Music Performance from FSU. What does this mean? It means that I LOVE to play my flute and perform for people. It means that I am one of those people in the above categories, practicing my instrument for hours, sitting in front of a computer (typing this), and I understand the demands that are placed on a musician’s body. We are unique in what our discipline requires from us. I get it, because I’m just like you.

So what the heck is a Musician Health Coach?

Besides my anatomy/kinesiology knowledge that came along with the personal training certification, I also have studied the Alexander Technique (taking classes/lessons at Interlochen Arts Camp, Appalachian State University and Alexander Murray), Body Mapping (taking the “What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body” class from Barbara Conable, and several other classes and presentations) and taking 2 years of Dynamic Integration with Eva Amsler at FSU. All three of these different modalities focus on the body; learning about the actual layout and how the body works, understanding how we move, remapping our idea of what we look like on the inside, learning to move with only the amount of tension that is necessary, UNLEARNING how to move in some ways, and most of all becoming hyper AWARE of my body and how it functions/moves.

As a musician health coach, what I do is to help musicians make that connection between their brains and their bodies. Huh? Playing the flute involves more than just your lips, arms, fingers and lungs. You use your entire body to play the flute, trombone, drums, etc. Do you ever think about these things while playing?

  • When I breathe in my spine compresses and when I breathe out, my spine lengthens
  • I am conscious of the space in-between my shoulder blades, and there is no tension there
  • I feel my feet while playing
  • When a difficult passage comes up, I consciously shift my weight to my right foot to make it easier
  • While breathing, I notice whether it is my chest or abdomen moving
  • During times of nervousness (either playing or about to play) I notice what my different symptoms are in all areas of my body, I can feel them, and I accept them instead of ignoring them.
  • Most times while playing, my attention is on my big toe, the back of my knees or noticing if my shoulders are holding excess tension rather than notes and phrases
  • I’m playing, but I’m feeling my feet
  • While playing, I check in with my body and notice where I have pain and am able to connect that pain (or not) to how I play my instrument
  • I can get up and down out of a chair without tensing my neck
  • When I sit to play I’m aware of how my body is balanced between my sit-bones
  • I feel strong/weak in certain areas of my body when I play

Ever thought any of those thoughts? I think of that stuff ALL THE TIME. Whether playing, practicing, preparing to play, weightlifting, driving, etc. As a musician health coach I see it as my job to help other musicians get out of their heads and into their bodies. Meaning that I use several methods to “coach” other musicians into being the best musicians they can be. I teach flute lessons but in these lessons the focus isn’t just on notes and phrases. A lot of the time we focus on body awareness, feeling your feet while playing, understanding how to sit in a chair and get in and out of it, noticing our emotions; how it feels to play with the different emotions and learning how to accept them instead of hide from them (including nervousness!).

If a musician or student complains about playing in pain, I begin to cross into the strength training aspect of my career. After learning how to “check in” with our bodies, I ask them to pinpoint the pain. I might show them some stretches to do before, during and after playing to combat the tightness that might be there.

Among musicians, especially those who have not been taught body awareness, there can be some pretty severe cases of muscle imbalances, and most often these imbalances lead to pain when playing. Most flutists I’ve surveyed complain of pain in and around the shoulder and neck area. A lot of this has to do with not being strong enough to hold our instruments in their proper positions for long amounts of time without compensation. Compensation is what happens when a muscle or body part is too tired or weak to be able to perform its intended function so other assistant muscles start taking over. We call this “synergistic dominance”. For example, if your shoulder and rotator cuff muscles are weak and other muscles are tight (especially your chest muscles), after awhile of playing you might start noticing pain under, around or between your shoulder blades (left, for flutists). The muscles you were asking to hold up your flute are not strong enough to continue, so other muscles like your chest and trapezius muscles have started to take over the job. This pulls on your already weak rhomboids and shoulder girdle which causes you to lean over to take the weight off the shoulder.

Now you are slouching to the right, your spine is out of alignment and your core muscles are not engaged to keep you upright. Most likely they were weak too, or else you would be able to hold up your flute. Now that the core is weak, other muscles of the hips have to take over which can cause your hamstrings to be weak, your hips to hurt, calves to be tight and possibly knees to hurt.

Now you’re a mess. Do you see how the body works together to play the instrument? We didn’t even talk about breathing!!! 🙂

So, here is my question to you. In the still relatively uncharted waters of musician health and strength training, what interests you? As a musician, what would you like to read about? What are you specific health concerns? What kinds of articles do you want to read about that you think might help you? Go outside the box here. Do you want to read about stretches? Weight training? Body Awareness? Travel tips? Overall health and well-being relating to the body and playing? There are a ton of topics, but I want to write about what interests YOU because I want to help YOU.

What interests you?

Feel free to post a comment on my Facebook page, hit me up on Follow fluteanjel on Twitter, leave a message below or take the poll below. Love to hear from you!

Click here to take survey

As I was reading through my Google Reader this morning, I came across this blog post: 3 Stability Exercises to Strengthen Core Muscles. (I’m going to use her images here, I give her credit for finding them!) As I was reading I thought “what a great idea for flutists!” Americans as a whole are horrifically lacking in core stability. We sit for most of the day, hunched over, with our spines in flexed positions and our heads jutted forward, our hip flexors are shortened and to make a long story short: we force our bodies to keep us upright using muscles that were not meant to be used, and our core muscles (which ARE meant for just that purpose of keeping us upright) get weak.

Every musician needs a strong core, and by strong core I don’t mean rock hard abs and a visible six-pack. The core is made up of several muscles, the diaphragm, transverse and rectus abdominals, obliques, and back muscles: mutifidus, erector spinae and QL and your pelvic floor muscles, among others. These muscles serve to keep your internal organs in place, your body upright and in balance and if you play a wind instrument, like flute, your core has to be strong to support all that internal pressure you are creating.

Side note:

Let’s talk about support for a minute. What does that vague word “support” really mean? Can my diaphragm do the work? To clear things up, your diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscles that cuts across the entire middle of your body and serves most basically to facilitate breathing. More on that later. It is an involuntary muscle, meaning, it cannot be consciously controlled (under most circumstances). Support, therefore, does not come from the diaphragm. What is meant by “breathe from the diaphragm” is to breathe low, your belly should move outward, instead of “shallow breathing” where your shoulders move upwards.
Support is basically where you take in a deep breath, and notice how the waistband of your bands moves outward. When you breathe out (through your flute embouchure) you need to keep the waistband of your pants out. You are not pushing out, rather you are keeping the natural tension that is there from breathing in. THIS is support and keeps your throat, lips and face muscles free from tension.

So, now that we understand support and can see why a strong core is beneficial, what are these exercises? Well, let me show you. I have done all of these myself and actually love them. They are a lot more difficult than they look, but give them a shot and see if you don’t enjoy them, too!

Vertical Pallof Press

You may have heard of the Pallof Press, which consists of pressing outward, this version presses upward. Nick Tuminello shows his version.

Band Hip Rotations

The goal here is to not twist too much, and to brace your abs against flinging to either side and using your core muscles to contract to twist you.

Standing Cable Anti-Rotation Chop

This is similar to the exercise above, but you twist even less. You use your arms to move and your abs to brace against movement.

Just because I’m a rebel, I thought I’d add one more and show you the Palloff Press. You’ve seen the vertical, now see the original! Notice how the body is not moving? The more weight you add, the more difficult this becomes. You are using your abdominal muscles to brace you and keep you from moving.

You do not need a “core workout” or a dedicated “core day”. Just put 1-2 core exercises of 1-2 sets in your workout each day that you lift and you will be doing just fine. You can also do these at home if you have bands, you do not even need a cable station. Just get a selection of bands and tie them to a door knob or put them in the door frame. The JC travel bands are fantastic for this!  See my webpage for a link for those.

Let me hear your thoughts…have you tried these?

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