Month: April 2016

Surviving Unsuccessful Performances

Welcome to a much delayed, but very thoughtful, Flute Friday.

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Bad performances happen to everyone. From young students performing Hot Cross Buns at a studio masterclass to orchestral flutists sweating their way through Stravinsky’s Fire Bird Suite to legendary solo artists such as James Galway performing the greatest works ever composed for the flute, every musician has a story or two of a performance gone dreadfully wrong. The frustration, the anger, the tears, the overwhelming self-doubt and the inner voices that seem to shout “FAILURE” as you disassemble your instrument are often deafening. These thoughts and feelings, however, are all false notions of your true capabilities as a musician and are solely based on one performance under one unique circumstances frozen under one temporary moment in time. It is sometimes difficult to remember to relax under these circumstances and ground your negative thoughts in this reality. The aftermath that follows a bad performance may also be difficult to manage. Friends, family, colleagues and even audience members may sense your disappointment and do their best to minimize the importance of the performance or the degree to which it was unsuccessful but your inner dialog may be suggesting that you did not prepare adequately, do not know how to control yourself or, in some cases, just are not that great of a musician. How do we silence these thoughts and come back to our truth? How does one pick themselves up by the bootstraps after not performing up to their own capabilities? How do we properly learn from our bad experiences?

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Today’s blog is a very personal one as this past weekend I gave a very poor performance at a masterclass. My sound and technique crumbled under my own nervousness and I stood stiffly and ashamed as the host told me I did not quite know the score yet (which I knew not to be true as earlier that morning I was walking around the stage practicing my piece from memory, a work that I have been playing for years and knew inside and out). I have only had a small handful of terrible performances throughout my career but all of them have been memorable and very difficult to process in constructive ways. I am hoping this blog will help all of us learn how to silence the voices that lead us astray after an unsuccessful performance and transform moments of failure into precious examples of how we can improve and truly perform to the best of our abilities in the future.

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Study Your Triggers.  What makes you afraid to perform? Are you afraid that you will not be perfect? Are you afraid to disappoint a particular conductor or a teacher? Are you afraid you will not win the job or the chair you really want? Sit down with a pen and paper and write down all of your fears regardless of their size and look objectively at your list (if you have a difficult time being objective about your playing, ask a spouse, parent, teacher or friend to look at your list). Are any of these items unrealistic (for example, will California really break off into the Pacific Ocean if you have a memory slip during your performance of the Chaminade Concertino?). Those are the fears that you can eliminate right away! From the items that remain on your list, ask yourself “Why?”. Why are you afraid to disappoint your conductor? Will you lose your job or your chair? What will that mean to you? Why do you want to impress at a masterclass? Are you looking for recognition or are you trying to recruit more students to your studio? Finally, ask yourself how truly important these things are to you. Are there other ways you can obtain your goals rather than relying on one performance? Chances are the answer is yes. And if your goal is simply to play the best you can for yourself and anything less is unacceptable, ask yourself why. Why are mistakes unacceptable? Study the motivations behind your fears and you may discover that they are either unfounded or that you are simply putting too much pressure on yourself to achieve goals using a single performance that can be achieved by other means or in other performance scenarios.

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Change your reaction to fear and disappointment. Did you know that we all have the ability to choose how we react to everything we encounter in our lives? Think about this for a minute. You have the ability to select to be happy when you open your email inbox and find a bill for $500 from the phone company. You can also change your reaction to a particularly difficult person in your life by simply deciding not to let their emotions change the state of your thoughts or feelings. The same can be said about your reaction to the fears listed above. As soon as you encounter each of these fears, stop yourself from habitually reacting with fear and consciously decide to accept your circumstances and change your approach. For example, if a particular passage in your music always seems to crash and burn when you perform for others, change your reaction to this passage by concentrating less on the individual pitches and more on the continuity of the melody. Sing through the notes rather than sweating through the rhythms. If it is the stage you fear, accept your environment and remind yourself that your surroundings do not control your musical ability. Say no to your fears and select a different interpretation to your individual performance challenges.

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Give yourself permission to fail. As I reflect on the events of last weekend, I realize that psychologically I was not allowing myself permission to fail. Somewhere along the line I had convinced myself that I MUST play well. Mistakes were not permitted. This is obviously where I went wrong. Allowing ourselves room to make mistakes during a performance alleviates the pressure we put on ourselves to play perfectly and, ironically, our performance improves. Experiment with this in your next practice session. Select a difficult passage in one of your pieces or an excerpt that you struggle to play perfectly (Stravinsky or Prokofiev for example) and give yourself permission to make mistakes. What often happens is that the harder your try to make mistakes the more your performance actually improves. This approach is one of the greatest stress relievers because it silences the perfectionist in all of us. When we realize we do not have to perform perfectly, we can allow our music to truly speak to our audiences.

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Accept that bad performances happen to everyone and learn from your mistakes. Okay, so you had a bad performance. What’s next? After a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or much needed retail therapy, take a moment to regroup. Remember that bad performances happen to every musician from the novice to the experienced professional and even legendary performers. You are not alone. Do not take your momentary performance as a reflection of your true musical ability or a prediction for future musical performances. Learn from your mistakes. Reflect on what went wrong. Was it a particular passage that derailed during your performance? Did your sound change? Were you shaking? How can you change these things for future performances? There are numerous resources available both in print and on the internet addressing performance anxiety to help you come up with solutions (I have even written about performance anxiety on previous blog posts). Purchase a breathing bag and simply breathe in and out of your breathing bag before your performance. Give yourself permission to fail. Practice your piece slowly leading up to the performance and focus on the overall musical line rather than stressing out over each individual note. Mediate or practice yoga. Tell yourself to enjoy your performance regardless of the outcome. Performing should be fun and if it isn’t you might be doing something wrong.

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Create a game plan for your next performance. You have identified your fears, you have examined your performance, identifying what went wrong, and have researched ways to address your anxiety and improve any musical weaknesses for future performances. The final step is to come up with a game plan for your next performance. Create a performance checklist or Cheat Sheet and tape this list to the inside of your music folder or keep it in a place that you will see every day. We are humans and in the heat of the moment we sometimes forget to use the valuable bits of knowledge we have collected that will improve our current circumstances. For example, my list will include items such as slow practice 1 week before performance, practice piece in isolated chunks, allow yourself permission to fail, practice inhaling/exhaling on the breathing bag, identify fears and accept current circumstances, eat a banana and hydrate prior to your performance, practice meditation or yoga on the morning of your performance, sing through your music and enjoy your performance regardless of the circumstances. What does your list look like? Remember this list and adhere to your own unique set of guidelines for your next performance.

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Finally, remember that no matter what happens, you are becoming better musician with every new performance. Accept all performances, good or bad, as learning experiences and look to the future rather than wallow in the past. The past does not determine who we are as musicians.

 

Have you ever had a bad performance? How did you reactions influence your playing? How did you learn from your experience? Please comment below!

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What is SmartMusic?

Welcome to another edition of Flute Friday/Saturday/Weekend.

One of the most difficult, and often most costly, steps to recital preparation is working with an accompanist to fine tune tempos, cues and virtually all other collaborative elements of performance. As a youngster in rural Northern Idaho, I did not have the luxury of having an accompanist just down the street from where I lived (in fact I usually met with my accompanist after school which was a 45 minute bus ride each way, 5 days per week) nor was it easy for my parents to shell out the money for weekly rehearsals. As a poor, starving college students the proximity to my accompanist was no longer an issue but the associated fees often affected whether or not I ate mac n’cheese for a few weeks in order to afford my recital prep. It wasn’t until my undergraduate band director/advisor/boss introduced me to a software program called SmartMusic that I began streamline my rehearsals making my money, and my preparation, go a lot further than ever before. SmartMusic helped me to listen to the accompaniment, understand how my entrances fit into the larger picture, listen for cues and tempo changes, understand the difference between sections of melody vs. accompaniment and really helped me to memorize not just the solo line of each work but the entire composition. Many of you reading this may already use SmartMusic but for those of you who have not yet worked with the program, I highly recommend this database not as a substitution for rehearsals with your accompanist but a tool to strengthen numerous issues often addressed in rehearsals therefore making your time and financial investment significantly more valuable to your recital preparation.

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What is SmartMusic? In its most basic form, SmartMusic is a software program that provides a piano accompaniment track for a large library of solo and ensemble literature. The extensive bells and whistles that come with the program are what really give you the most bang for your buck. Using a lapel microphone, SmartMusic accompaniments have the capability of following a performer’s tempo changes and will listen for performer “cue” notes to begin playing after a fermata (whoa!). You may select the extent to which the accompaniment follows the tempo changes (or doesn’t follow…if you have trouble keeping a steady tempo). There is also an excellent count off feature that will establish a tempo before the accompaniment begins and a drop down menu used to manipulate the recording to play at predetermined tempos (which is a great feature for students just learning how to play along with an accompaniment). You may play along with the accompaniment or with both the accompaniment and solo line as a guide (another useful feature for beginners). SmartMusic contains metronome and tuner functions directly on the accompaniment screen (remember to check your pitch as you play!). Finally my favorite part of this program is that it will make a recording of each take for you to review and transfer into an mp3 recording. With the right microphone and speaker levels, this will program will produce a recording comparable to a zoom recorder and can be used for various prerecorded auditions and competitions.

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The Flute library contains several standard works in the traditional flute canon including:

Mozart Concerti in D and G Major

All works in the Flute Music by French Composers collection (Chaminade Concertino, Faure Fantasie, Enesco Cantabile et Presto, Gaubert Nocturne et Allegro Scherzando, Taffanel Andante Pastoral et Scherzittino, etc.)

Ibert Concerto

Nielsen Concerto

Vivaldi Piccolo Conerto

Jolivet Chant di Linos

Bach Sonatas

Burton Sonata

Franck Sonata

Copeland Duo for Flute and Piano

Martin Ballade

Muczynski Sonata

…and so much more!

I’ve used this program for well over a decade and love it just as much today as I did when I found it in a music school practice room those many years ago. I know there are more functions than those that I have described above (including jazz and sight-reading exercises) but I typically limit my use of SmartMusic for recital preparation, memory work and student lessons and masterclasses. The only drawback is that the solo library is a bit limited in their higher level offerings and non-standard literature (for example, the Hue Fantasie is similar to some of their other selections but is not yet offered in SmartMusic). I have also required the use of a foot pedal with the program after extensive cadenzas which does not come standard with the program and can only be purchased by contacting the manufacturer directly. The program overall is very comprehensive and the features can be used in numerous ways for musicians young and old. The student price for a yearly subscription is $40.00 and the lapel microphone will cost an additional $30.00. Not a bad price for the hours of rehearsal time you will save yourself by practicing with the accompaniment in the comfort of your own practice room or home.

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For information or to subscribe to SmartMusic please visit http://www.smartmusic.com/?_ga=1.29273916.1246042368.1460233113 . I am not affiliated with SmartMusic or its products. Just a fan of the program and a lifetime subscriber!

How do you use SmartMusic in your practice? What are your favorite features? Have you experimented with the sight reading and jazz functions? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!

The Mark of the Flutist

Welcome to Flute Friday!

This week’s post may not apply to some of my readers but it is an issue I have discussed with many of my students. “What is that black mark on your chin?” When I was younger, I remember the kids at weekly band class often pointing to my chin in wonderment while I shyly disassembled my flute after rehearsal. I never quite understood why the lip plate on my flute reacted to the skin underneath my lip. Was it a reaction to the makeup I sometimes wore with the silver plating on my flute? Why did it show up even when I wasn’t wearing any makeup? Was it caused by sweat or was the metal wearing off onto my skin? Why did it happen on some days and others not? How can I prevent this pesky black mark showing up on my chin during rehearsals?

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This black mark is what some flutists affectionately refer to as The Flutist’s Goatee (a strange term since it happens more often to my female students. Perhaps we should rename this to something more eloquent like Flute Lip Tattoos, Fluter’s Chin, or the Mark of the Flutist). It is caused by a reaction to the metal in solid silver and silver plated flutes with sweat and various products applied in and around the chin area including make-up, lotion, moisturizer, lipstick, lip gloss, Chaptsick and similar salves. The degree and severity of the mark depend on individual PH balances. Each of us may have different marks at different times making predicting the presence and type of mark quite difficult. There are, however, a number of ways to prevent Fluter’s Chin before it happens and ways to discretely tackle the issue post rehearsal/performance that are more effective than anxiously rubbing your chin with the side of your sleeve.

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Table the Makeup. This may be as difficult for my teenage students as it was for myself. Part of the fun of being an adolescent girl is finally having an opportunity to experiment with face makeup. I learned quickly that the aesthetic payoff of my foundation was not enough to counter the annoyance of that reoccurring dark spot on my chin after rehearsal. This also goes for lotions and moisturizers. Try to leave just the section of skin that comes into contact with your flute clear of products. Use the minutes following rehearsal to reapply as necessary.

Never wear lip gloss or lipstick when playing the flute. This seems obvious but I know how unfair it is watching our string playing colleagues work it with various shades of pinks and reds at performances. It is likely that these products will not only react with our flutes but also could smear all over the lip plate, adding more discoloration to the lip area. Not good.

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Purchase a headjoint with a gold or wood lip plate. This is a drastic step but if you are already on the market for a new instrument, look for ones with gold or wood lip plates because these materials do not react the same way with your skin as silver lip plates. When I upgraded to a gold lip plate in my junior year of high school, my lip tattoos vanished until years later when I returned to the silver lip plate.

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Use Lip Plate Patches. I love these and use them in the summer months when sweat makes its way onto my chin causing my flute to slip and slide. They are also very good for preventing that pesky black mark on your chin year-round. Lip Plate Patches are simple decals with a mild adhesive backing that attaches to your lip plate. Simple, affordable, and quite comfortable. They are very discrete and can also be used during performances. Available on Amazon.com:  Yamaha YAC 1089P2 Flute Lip Plate Patch

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Makeup remover wipes.  These wonderful wipes are not only good for removing makeup but can be used to remove any flute lip tattoos post performance or rehearsal (plus they feel refreshing after having held a piece of metal to your face for extended periods of time). Visit the travel section of your local drug store where you can find smaller packets that will fit nicely in your flute bag. (Or stock up on Amazon:  Neutrogena Make-Up Remover Cleansing Towelettes 7 Count (Pack of 6))

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Fluter’s Chin happens to thousands of us. Prevention and preparation are key to tackling the reaction between your chin and the metal of your lip plate. Do not be embarrassed. The dark mark left after a rehearsal is a type of badge indicating that you have been creating music. That is something to proud of! But if you’d rather the world see a fresh-faced flutist, then follow the tips I have outlined above and play on.

Have you encountered Fluter’s Chin? What are some of the methods you have used to remove that pesky dark mark? How often does this happen under what circumstances?

 

Happy Fluting!