Month: March 2018

Astrological Practice Habits

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday.

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Be sure to check out The Flute View this month to catch my short article on Astrology and the Flute and to check your Flute Horoscopes for March http://thefluteview.com/ .

In the spirit of the flute and astrology, today’s blog features a look into the practice habits of each of the 12 astrological signs. Every sign approaches the world a bit differently. Where do you fit? Do you show these characteristics in the practice room? Have you noticed other signs displaying these common astrological traits? Please comment below!

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PRACTICE HABITS OF THE ASTROLOGICAL SIGNS

ARIES – Do not get in the way of an Aries when they want to get something done! Mars, the God of War, is the ruler of Aries. Musicians falling under this Sun sign tend to set very clear daily goals and do not rest until they achieve everything on their list. An Aries will stay in the practice room until the building closes if they feel that there is still work to be done for the day. The list may be short but their ambition is quite expansive. Aries is also a very stubborn sign. They often get stuck because they hold on to traditional, tried and true, methods of doing things and sometimes overlook new techniques or exercises that would accomplish more with less time and effort. If you are an Aries and find yourself frustrated by old techniques, find an Aquarius or Sagittarius friend to show you some great time savers. These two signs are fairly hip to new trends and good at finding clever shortcuts.

TAURUS – “Slow and steady. Steady and slow. That’s the way I always go.” This is the motto of a Taurus. Musicians falling under this Sun sign love slow practice. When learning a new piece of music, a Taurus will dial the metronome back to quarter note = 40 and slowly increase the tempo each day until they are playing the piece up to tempo. They are also quite interested in sound production and will spend a good amount of time with De la Sonorite by Marcel Moyse working on developing a solid center for each note. Much like an Aries, a Taurus is very stubborn and likes to stick to traditional forms of practicing in a very organized, formulaic fashion (ex. long tones are followed by scales which are always followed by etudes, and so forth). A Taurus is also all about efficiency and does not generally enjoy improvising. If you are a Taurus and struggling with improvisation, find some time to jam with a Pisces. This sign will help you find your unique voice.

GEMINI – Geminis need to talk things through, preferably with other people (but don’t be surprised if you find them frequently talking to themselves in the practice room). This Sun sign thrives on communication. Geminis often find themselves practicing in groups where they can talk things through with their colleagues. They are most productive when they rehearse with at least one other person and prefer to visit the practice room during the busiest times of the day. You may find yourself in periodic chats with your Gemini friends if you are practicing within their vicinity. Don’t worry – they just need a break from the awkward solitude of the practice room or literally just need someone to discuss different ways they could tackle technical passages. This may annoy signs like Scorpios or Cancers who like to withdraw from the world to practice, but may lead to creative, inspiring new ideas whenever a Gemini strikes up a dialog with a Pisces or a Libra. Schedule a practice session with a Gemini friend if you are struggling with a piece of music and need to talk it out. They will have some great ideas.

CANCER – Cancers value their family above all else in the world. You may not even see a Cancer in the practice rooms because they likely have a home rehearsal space they prefer to use. This makes it easy for a Cancer to sneak in a bit of practice here and there while still devoting most of their evening hours to their family. Cancers like to hold mock performances for their friends and family, who often end up being the “jury” in a mock audition. It is very important for Cancers to share their passion and creativity with their loved ones. This means more to them than winning competitions or landing a great chair placement in an orchestra. Cancers will have the largest audience at a recital or orchestral performance as support from friends and family is very important to them. Whenever they are hurt by a disrespectful colleague or disappointed by a less than great performance, Cancers will sometimes snap, say things they don’t really mean, and retreat to a quiet place to cool down. Give them their space. They just need a little time in their shell before revisiting the outside World. Patience is not their forte so when they do come out of their shell, it is always a good idea to have a sympathetic Pisces or Scorpio nearby for them to calmly discuss alternative ways to approach their situation.

LEO – Leos are the Beyoncé’s of the World. As the proverbial divas of the Zodiac, this Sun sign loves to put on a show. You typically won’t find musicians falling under this sign locked up in a practice room, if they can help it. Leos prefer to practice on a stage. It doesn’t matter if it is in an empty concert hall, outside in nature, or one that they have crafted in their own garage (with the doors open, of course, to entertain the neighbors). Leos also like to make sure that everybody likes them (which is not difficult because they are very likeable people). This sign will go out of their way to make sure they are doing whatever they can to make the group sound better, whether it is through excellent attention to dynamics or precisely matching vibrato speed with their neighbors. When it is recital time, you can bet that a Leo will be dressed to the nines and will likely have a spectacular final piece on their programs (something French, perhaps, with a lot of fireworks). It is sometimes difficult for Leos to address difficult problems. They do not like telling others that something is wrong. It is important for Leos to connect to signs like Capricorn or Aries, who can give this sign the bit of confidence they need to communicate issues to other members of their group or, in some instances, to themselves. Of course, they will always put a positive spin on whatever negative enters their world. This is a wonderful gift!

VIRGO – As the natural perfectionists in the Zodiac, Virgos are the best of the best. This sign will spend hours examining a score before heading to the practice room. Their manuscripts are typically covered with notes referencing everything from definition of terms to specific plans for rubato passages. Virgo will pack their schedules with opportunities for practice time to make sure that all of their passages are metronomically correct, their runs are super clean, dynamics are perfectly planned out, and their performance is 100% technically perfect. Virgos are the masters of scale studies and love, love, love their metronome. They may have trouble sometimes with slower, expressive pieces or finding creative interpretations for more lyrical passages. Connecting with water signs (Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio) will help Virgos discover deeper interpretations for the music they are working on. Water signs bring the Virgo’s attention to the meaning behind the notes, not just the notes themselves.

LIBRA – Libras love to embrace all things beautiful. This Sun sign likes to beautify their environment with gorgeous (and often meaningful) works of art, bundles of brightly colored flowers place strategically around the house, and cascading draperies for every season of the year. Libras also like to decorate their practice space in this manner. They might bring in portable lamps to soften harsh overhead lighting, gorgeous (yet perhaps a bit impractical) instrument stands, and various linens or silk coverings (just to give their environment a bit of color). Libras also gravitate towards more lyrical works, or pieces that have longer sections of melody mixed in among technical passages (French Flute school works are ideal for Libras for this reason.). Libras do not really enjoy chance or minimalistic works without a melody.  They often struggle, however, when dealing with difficult people or problems as they just want everything in their world to be harmonious. Libras should work with signs like Aries or Sagittarius to gain more confidence in addressing sticky situations. These two signs are action driven and dealing with difficulties is second nature for them in order to get things done.

SCORPIO – Leave this sign alone when they are practicing. Scorpios like to practice in quiet solitude, away from the distractions that other signs may bring. It is not necessarily because they are anti-social, but rather because they have lazar-sharp focus on very specific selections of music that they simply cannot break. Interrupting a Scorpio when they are fixated on their music may result in a silent wrath that you really do not want in your life. They do not mean to hurt you (in fact, Scorpios will help out other signs whenever they are in need, no matter what – even if they would rather FedEx you directly to Timbuktu) – They are simply workaholics that take their projects very seriously. Scorpios prefer to practice at night when most other people have gone home for the evening. They will typically come to the practice room armed with very specific passages (often bracketed) that they intend to work on until perfect and burned into their memories. If you are hanging around the practice rooms around 9:00 pm and hear someone playing the same passage over, and over, and over, AND OVER again, it is likely a Scorpio. Give them space. Scorpio have a hard time taking breaks, which can lead to injury and other psychological issues down the road. They need other water signs (Cancer and Pisces) around to remind them to take care of themselves. It’s okay for Cancers to give Scorpios a cut off time and politely knock on the door when time is up. Cancers can diffuse a potential stinger with thoughtfulness.

SAGITTARIUS – The expression, “Don’t be such a ham!” was probably intended for a Sagittarius. Sagittarians love to be the center of attention and, unlike Leos, they generally do not care if you love them or loath them – They want your attention regardless. Sagittarians will practice in hallways and outside of buildings so everybody within a 3-mile radius can hear them. They typically have no problem with the stage and would rather be on stage that in a confining practice room. They work extremely hard to earn principal seats in orchestra so that they may have opportunities to shine on solo passages. Sagittarians also love flute karaoke and enjoy entertaining family and friends with fun, popular tunes that they can sign along to. This Sun sign is very kind, often going out of their way to make sure that everyone they meet is happy and having a good time. You may find Sagittarians roaming the halls with bottles of water for their hard-working fellow musicians or toting a plate of cookies around for exhausted pianists.  Sagittarians may find themselves struggling with folks in authority as they do not like to be told what to do. They value their creative freedom too much to accept any kind of censorship. This is where a Taurus or an Aquarian may help their fellow sign learn patience and flexibility. Take a Sagittarius out to lunch and talk over the situation calmly and rationally. They will appreciate a new perspective.

CAPRICORNS – Capricorns love, love, LOVE the details. This Sun sign often prefers to work on intricate Baroque music or Phillip Glass pieces that have a lot of moving parts. Like Virgos, Capricorns spend a good amount of time on score preparation before practicing their music, but unlike Virgos, they will focus quite deeply on harmonic analysis, often outlining each scale and arpeggio involved in longer technical passages and documenting how leading tones or grace notes emphasize the underlying harmony. They are like walking theory dictionaries (which definitely may come in handy during orchestral sectionals). Capricorns prefer to practice in the wee morning hours before most people have had their morning cup of coffee. This may annoy fixed signs like Scorpio and Aries, so Capricorns are advised to schedule rehearsals with these signs later in the morning if at all possible. Front-loading all of their creativity in the AM, Capricorns may lose focus during evening rehearsals. This is where their fixed sign friends may help them out a bit by drawing their limited attention to specific details in the music that may need some finesse. They sometimes find themselves trimming the trees at the expense of the forest. It is important that Capricorns periodically step back (perhaps with assistance from an Aquarius) and study the form of their music to find the bigger picture.

AQUARIUS – The practice environment of an Aquarius can best be described as a beautiful disaster. Aquarians prefer to quickly jump from one project to another and back again, therefore their practice room may be littered with 9 or 10 pieces that they practice in a circuit routine (5 minutes on this piece, 10 minutes on that piece, 7 minutes on the other piece, and so forth). They may even have projects that they are working on outside of their practice room littered periodically during their allotted practice time. We have all walked by that one abandoned practice room, usually in the corner, that appears to have been hit by a F5 tornado sometime within the past 24 hours. It likely belongs to an Aquarian. Do not be fooled by the mess, however. Aquarians know exactly what needs to be done to prepare a very cohesive performance. They are also very flexible and, for this reason, are favored by many conductors. If the conductor says jump, an Aquarius will find a pogo stick and jump (as long as it makes sense for the overall concept of the piece they are working on…if not, they will at least question before jumping). Aquarians, however, have a difficult with the details, and may become easily stressed by the nitty-gritty. It is important for this sign to collaborate with a Capricorn from time to time as they may be able to help each other find a balance between analysis of the minute and the form of the bigger picture.

PISCES – A Pisces loves to jam. And why not? They are the most creative sign in the Zodiac. Improvisation is very important for a Pisces and they often need to clear their heads either before or after a practice session by playing from the heart. Pisces gravitates toward genres such as Jazz or Rock n’ Roll where opportunities to chuck the rules and create something unique off the top of their heads appeal to their creative nature. This Sun sign is generally okay in a practice room, but prefers to practice in their garage, sometimes with others and sometimes with themselves (depending on their mood). They are also brilliant composers and song writers as their creativity and emotional depth help them express themselves to the world however and whenever they want. Represented by a fish, it is important to remember that a Pisces does not have an outer level of protection from the elements (such as a shell or fur) and is quite sensitive. No-nonsense Virgos or Capricorns may easily, yet unintentionally, hurt the feelings of a Pisces and drain their creative energy. Having fellow water signs around them (Scorpio and Cancer) will help a Pisces express their emotions to other signs that may sympathize and help patiently put things in perspective. This may help a Pisces feel a bit more confident when encountering harsh conductors or uncompressing judges. Water signs gently remind a Pisces that tomorrow is another day.

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Happy Fluting!

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Grit

Apologies for the absence of Flute Friday these past couple of weeks. I have been under the weather lately and avoiding all non-critical responsibilities. But today I am back and ready to share my thoughts with the internet world.

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Last weekend I saw a remarkable film that brought me back to the days when I was young, ambitious musician (with a bit of an edge), competing in a field of flutists whose backgrounds were very different from my own. The movie was I, Tonya. I know what you are thinking: What in the world does figure skating have to do with music? How can you relate to such a weird, crazy story? Whoa – did your ex try to injure another flutist?? (That’s messed up!) Luckily, the thought of harming another musician never crossed my ex’s mind (If it had, I would have gladly handed him over the cops ASAP), but growing up without a lot of money and being surrounded by other kids who often reminded me that I was never good enough are two themes with which I can absolutely identify. I know that I am not alone. As an adult, I realize that there are things that we can learn from this film (and from our own experiences) to better help those students that show incredible talent but do not have the resources or support that may be readily available to other students. As coaches, we must find ways to encourage our students to reach for the next level despite whatever obstacles, personal or professional, stand in the way. Today’s blog is dedicated to all of us that have overcome hardship and to any students who may facing their own tumultuous circumstances. If you believe you can, if you put in elbow grease, if you tune out the haters, if you keep working towards greatness no matter what, you will eventually achieve your goals.

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Like figure skating, music is a competitive “sport” (if you will) where the refinement of physical skill is juxtaposed against individual, creative interpretations of art. We are ranked in competitions and in orchestral seating assignments with a 1st (gold), 2nd (silver), or 3rd (bronze) depending on how our playing is judged by a committee. Different committees will judge us differently. We play the same canon of pieces just as figure skaters use the same types of standard jumps and flips in their routines, and our success is not only judged by how well we execute various techniques, but also by what we add to the expression behind the notes. Our fields, in many ways, are very similar, both requiring numerous hours of practice to attain mastery. There are also a number of etiquette rules in both figure skating and music that we learn along the way. For kids that may not be exposed to proper etiquette in their home or school life, these guidelines are much more difficult to master than children whose parents can afford to regularly take them out to restaurants, dinner parties, trips, and other social gatherings. I think that one of the most important similarities between figure skating and music, however, is the financial cost of success. This is where children who come from lower income families often find themselves alienated from their counterparts. Skates are expenses. Flutes are expensive. Private lessons with talented coaches and teachers put parents on the hook for monthly expenses that rival the power bill, the phone bill, and other essential monthly family expenses. I began learning to play the flute on an old school Bundy model flute that my parents purchased from a pawn shop for $100. Did that stop me from practicing harder that the other kids in band class whose parents had purchased shiny new Yamaha models? Not one bit! Kids without resources to buy the best equipment or study with talented teachers sometimes find themselves having to work much harder for the same results as kids whose families can afford the best of the best. Yet, it is that inner fight that gives some of the truly talented students the ambition, or grit, to rise above their circumstances. (Merriam-Webster defines “grit” as, “ firmness of mind or spirit, unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.”) They have to find a way to make it work with less. It is not easy, but the reward on the other side is worth more than money. The confidence that is attained with success is priceless and essential for building bigger dreams and achieving loftier goals. I, Tonya reminded me of what it is like to have grit in the face of obstacles. In the movie, they also referred to it as having an “edge.”  In real life, folks often use words such as “unorthodox,” “ambitious,” or “scrappy.” Whatever it is, the drive that propels kids with financial or social obstacles forward is irreplaceable and, in a word, magical.

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I remember watching this real life drama in the figure skating world unfold and, even as a child, thought that Tonya Harding was treated unfairly and that barring such an incredible talent from the figure skating world was a huge mistake. She took responsibility for knowing what had transpired and for her honesty, her dreams were taken away from her as the sport simultaneously threw away a very talented athlete. She was mixed up with a bad crowd who did not care about her or her talent – only themselves. Only cowards, like the band of thugs that hurt Nancy Kerrigan, could do something so awful and unprofessional. These cowards had Tonya trapped. It was an obstacle that she simply could not skate away from. What was the message that young, scrappy girls were left with as they watched these events transpire on the nightly news? Honesty does not matter – they will still take everything away from you if given the opportunity? That message just adds more fuel to the fire. “Prove them wrong,” was the message I took away from that story. Whenever someone told me I was not going to be able to do something, that is when I went over the top to show them I could. As an adult, I feel that my grit has disintegrated. Yet, when I see a student with that same type of ambition, doing what they can to excel with limited resources, I am inspired to be the very best coach I can, providing them with the encouragement they need to rise to the next level.

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As teachers, we have a responsibility to support gifted students, no matter what their backgrounds may be, and tailor our teaching methods to suit their individual learning styles. There is a fantastic moment in I, Tonya, taken directly from the real life 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which really sums up how we need to approach talented students with grit. Tonya Harding was the first woman skater in history to land a triple axel in a competition during her free skate at the 1991 U.S. Championship. The split second after she landed this amazing jump, complete with a larger than life smile on her face, the commentator (who I believe was Dick Button) enthusiastically exclaimed into the microphone, “good girl!” When your students accomplish their goals, celebrate their successes with them. When they prove others wrong, and rise to the top, let them know how proud you are of them. One of the things that separates my experiences as a young flutist from Tonya’s experiences (fact, or fiction) is that I was nearly always surrounded by people who supported me. I had great teachers and a great family that did everything they could to send me to top, even when money was tight. During the other times when kids seemed to be heckling me or telling me that I wasn’t good enough, or when other teachers brushed off my accomplishments as “flukes,” I used their words as reasons to try even harder next time to prove them wrong. The haters gave me my grit. Be that support system for your students, because they may or may not have a decent support system in their personal lives. Encourage them to prove the haters wrong and harness that magical sense of grit that will help them achieve their goals.

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Did you overcome social or socioeconomic hardships to become the flute player you are today? Do you have experiences teaching students with incredible talent that rose above their circumstances? How did you show them your support? How did you help them rise above their limits? Please comment below!

 

Happy Fluting!