Happy New Year

When it comes to music, Christmas is for classical and traditional songs, while New Year is for pop golden oldie.
For a fun look at the past, here are some happy new year videos!


IN SPANISH (at the 52 second mark)

IN FRENCH from the Island of the Reunion




Do you have fun with your instrument?

I had a piano at home my whole life until I moved to the States. I used to play it all the time, often just for fun.

When I moved to the US, I discovered practice rooms. While I was glad I had a piano to practice on, the amount of time I spent just having fun on the piano went way low. At the end of a long day, staying extra hours at school just to sing or write songs just seemed like they would take me away from much needed time at home.

A few years later I got a tiny keyboard, which had only three octaves, and no pedal. Even if it was far from ideal, after not having written any songs for years, I ended up writing quite a few during the time I had it. I also learned a lot of new songs just sight-reading away.

Unfortunately I had to get rid of it when I moved to Boston, and spent another three years with no instrument at home. While I was practicing hard at school, and getting more and more professional on my instrument, at that point I had close to no fun with it. Piano had become my job, and the few times where I got to play it for no purpose other than itself, I missed the fun I used to have daily with it.

I talked about that often with my husband, who realized a few weeks ago that his brother had a full size awesome keyboard at his parents home, and that he wasn't playing it since he had gone away to college. So we asked him if we could borrow it for a few months, and drove it back from Christmas break. My husband built it up last night, and I could not be happier!

I played it right away last night, and as soon as I woke up this morning and saw it, I couldn't wait to play it! It's just like a new love, I'm giddy just thinking about it!

I now feel as if I play two different instruments: one in practice rooms for my professional life, and one at home as a fun hobby.

How lucky am I?!



How to fund your recording project

New Year resolutions are coming up, and one of your goals this year might be to record your own cd. The recording part of the project is the easy part, it's getting to the recording studio that is tougher, because of how the high recording costs.

Here are some of the ways to get your project funded:
  • Grants: here is the most comprehensive list of all types of grants, compiled and collected by Michigan State Universities Library. It's an amazing one-stop-shop! 
Each state offers their own grant, so it's best you do a search for your own state's to find the best resource; here is the best source of grants in Massachusetts.

Grants are given for different projects and for different populations (students, singers, string players, young professionals, etc.). They are various application requirements, from sending a resume, to writing a paper, to submitting an explanation of your project. Most people are not aware of most grants, which means that many of them are quite easy to get if you apply.
  • Raise money: There are many different ways to ask for money. Here is a good article on how to do it, with good suggestions on how to motivate people to give, such as offering perks or offering tax receipts.
Many sites nowadays are helping you raise money, such as artistshare.com, feedmuse.com. See how my friend Amy Yassinger is using kickstarter.com for her project.

Good luck!



How Kristin Chenoweth and the Rockettes made my holiday inspiring

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, or whichever celebration you participated in!

I got spoiled with wonderful gifts, including the fantastic autobiography of Kristin Chenoweth, called A Little Bit Wicked.
I loved the book so much, I read it in two days. It's well written, funny, informative, good-hearted and genuine. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Broadway, theatre, singing, tv, acting, and of course Kristin Chenoweth.

Just in case you already have years of reading to catch up on, here is her advice  for young actors, taken straight from her book.
  1. "It's been said a thousand times, and it's true: if there's anything else you could be happy doing, you should do it. 
  2. Run with the big dogs or stay on the porch with the puppies, but let your ambition be about who you want to be, not what you want to get.
  3. Awards are on the outside. Rewards are on the inside. That means rewards don't have to be dusted. 
  4. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 
  5. Never, never forget the fun factor." 

Besides reading this book, I also got the chance to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular this morning (it was an unlisted 9am performance, and I am curious how that worked with the union).

I expected a lot of legs, and some Christmas music, but I got so much more than that:
  • a 3D video where I felt like I was flying in the sky with Santa.
  • not one, not two, but three camels (CAMELS!) nonchalantly walking by on stage.
  • some aerial actions (which did bring to mind the recent Spiderman fall, and  made me wonder if any actor on Broadway doing aerial stuff is also thinking about it every time they do it).
  • an ice rink 
  • a cool number of the Rockettes dressed in military uniforms creating interesting visual effects (which made my military husband say that the Rockettes would be really good at marching, and made me wonder if the military would be good at being Rockettes)!
This was the kind of show that reminded me why I do what I do, and made me proud of being a part of the theatre world.

Last on my list of things that made me happy this Christmas is that my blog is now published for easy read on your mobile phone!

You've got nothing to do but type the web address on your phone and voila! Make sure to try it out!

Now, back to eating yummy leftovers (which include an amazing vanilla and berries Buche de Noel), and cozying it up by the fire!

I wish you just the same!


    The best 6 books on practicing

    Here are the six books most highly recommended by the College Pedagogy Committee Panel Discussion.

    1. The Inner Game of Golf: this book is written by Timothy Gallwey, and is about the psychology of learning. The freelancer can understand how to learn better by reading how to learn golfers learn better. If you want to read a preview of it, there it is. 

    2. Performing in the Zone: this book is described as giving "explanations about what really goes on inside your mind and body in performing situations." It includes a 12 week program to incorporate the techniques from the book into your life.

    3. The Inner Game of Music: this book is in collaboration with Barry Green from the series by Timothy Gallwey, and includes chapters on coping with obstacles, improving the quality of musical experience and letting go. Here is the preview for it.

    4. The Musician's Way: Not only did author Gerald Klickstein wrote a book on performing, he also shares on a regular basis his knowledge on his blog, with topics such as the creative process, injury prevention, music education, and more.

    5. The Practicing Mind: The emphasis of the book is on staying in the moment and on being disciplined and focused.

    6. The Perfect Wrong Note, Learning to Trust Your Musical Self : The preview of this book by professional pianist William Westney indicates interesting chapters such as juicy mistakes, the effect of lessons, and whether it is good or not to be a good student.

    Picture from http://www.artsjournal.com/bookdaddy/2008/07/


    What is the challenge of your show?

    The sooner you realize which specific challenge there is for the show you're in, the sooner you can make peace with it and make the best of the process.

    Here are some particular challenges to be on the lookout for:
    • Scheduling: I worked on a show for which the creative team would meet after each rehearsal and spend a whole hour figuring out the schedule for the rest of the week, but meet again at the next rehearsal to re-work the schedule for the whole week, but meet again the next day, etc. you get the picture.

      Scheduling always needs to be readjusted in a regular process, but this went on for the entire process. Because scheduling was constantly changed, there might as well not have been a schedule to start with.
    • Not enough rehearsal time: sometimes the schedule is actually so tightly set in stone, even before the choreographer and the music director are hired, that time planned for rehearsals is not adequate to the music that needs to be taught.

      This case leads to as crazy a situation as one where people have never gone through a song before tech week, or when they were only taught parts and moves once and never had the chance to rehearse it again.
    • A difficult cast member: it's amazing how one single person can impact everyone's process, whether it's a diva, a whiner, or a rehearsal back seat driver, they will bring the energy down and the mood low. 
    • No score: no words, no chords, no printed music, nothing. You get a recording and on your merry way you go, having to figure it all out for yourself what is expected of you.

      And don't think that the expectation will be lessened, they will be just the same, except it will take you much longer to get to the same result.

      And the rehearsal process will suffer from communication break-down when people want to start in a spot in the middle of the song but no one knows how to refer to it: "you know the spot where it goes lalala, and where the dancers have a turn, not the first turn, but the second turn, the full second turn, not the half one that's in between ..."
    • Poorly written vocal parts: this is a problem that happens with new works, because they're still being worked on and parts are being filled in by the day.

      Ideally this would be a collaborative process between the composers and the music director and the cast, but after so many years working on a project, original creators tend to become (understandably) possessive of their work, and do not take well outside points of views.

      Major patience, kindness and empathy are the most important qualities to maintain then. 
      • Working with overworked actors: a main problem of summer stock.Voices get tired, people get sick, emotions run high, drama ensues, when exhaustion sets in the rehearsal process becomes a mess.

        Actors can't do much about that issue except from taking care of themselves as much as possible. The best to hope then is for a schedule to be well ran, for scores to be handed in and for parts to be written well.  


        Picture from http://www.ehow.com/videos-on_3286_audition-musical.html


        Do you have an excuse or a reason?

        Performers are told all the time not to make excuses, which is a wonderful thing except for the times when people have actual reasons and don't share them because they're afraid they will be considered excuses.

        Let's look at the difference between reasons and excuses here, when you should mention something and when you should keep it to yourself.

        YOU'RE SICK 
          • FOR REHEARSAL: -DO tell the creative team if you're sick before rehearsals start, otherwise they'll wonder if they did a mistake by casting you in the first place. A lot of singers don't tell because they're afraid the creative team will think that they're not reliable, but it's an important piece of information for the creative team to know why you're not giving your whole. DO tell if it gets worse in the middle of rehearsal, and if you're getting a fever, because you might be becoming contagious and you need to go home immediately and take care of it. Everyone will appreciate you for it. DO NOT tell if you're fatigued from being sick if it makes no changes to your sound or to what you're physically able to do.  
          • FOR A LESSON: -DO tell if it impacts your sound. DO NOT tell it you think that's a reason for not coming in prepared. There's a lot of mental practicing and table work that can be done even when you're sick. 
          • FOR AN AUDITION: -DO NOT tell BEFORE you sing, because if you happen to sound great, people will think that you were just trying to cover for a potentially bad audition, and they might think that you are insecure and that you may be a pain in the butt to work with. DO tell right AFTER singing if you really didn't sound normal, and apologize by telling what it is you have. Don't say: "Sorry, I'm kind of sick," but "I hope I get another chance to sing for you again because I have a terrible cold which is impacting my sound negatively." If you didn't say it at the audition, DO NOT email the casting director about it, you missed your chance.         

            • FOR REHEARSAL: Unless something major happened such as you had to take your child to the doctor, or your car broke down, or something tangible like this, no excuse will ever be good enough. Because most likely the reason you didn't practice was not because of a lack of time but because of a lack of organization. You could have practiced at some point but you thought you could practice later, and then something came up, and here you are, not prepared. Practice when you can.
            • FOR A LESSON: There's no really good reason for not being ready for a lesson because you have a whole week to get ready for it. It's even worse if you try to fool your teacher saying that you practiced when you didn't, so the best is to tell right when you walk into the lesson that you're not ready and that you're sorry (and you better be sorry because you're wasting your teacher's time and you're throwing your tuition money away). 
            • FOR AN AUDITION: No excuse or reason will ever be good enough for you to go to an audition not prepared. If it's a call back and you do have a good reason for not being prepared, then call ahead and cancel your appointment. If you have a relationship with the creative team, you may email beforehand and explain what your reason is for not coming to the call back, and that you don't want to waste their time by showing up unprepared. They might give you an appointment for a later date, but otherwise, know that you did the right thing and that they will respect you for that.


            Are you a show or a no-show?

            Today is a perfect, slow, comfy, snow day in Virginia. Snow is often a good reason for people to not make it to work, but as freelance artists, no matter the weather, one must show up. Two reasons for it: one, it's the way to be as a professional performer. Two, most likely if you don't show up you won't get paid.

            To stress the importance of showing up, here is an excerpt from the (excellent) book "The Making of a Chef," when journalist Michael Ruhlman gets confronted between the decision of taking the risk to drive in a snow storm, or showing up in the kitchen of the Culinary Institute of America where he is following the courses as a student, as a project for his book. The following discussion ensued between the writer and his teacher.

            "Hi, Chef, this is Michael Ruhlman. (...) It's still snowing up here. I don't think I'll be able to make it in."
            "That's up to you, " he said softly.
            "I'm sorry," I said.
            I paused. I needed him to know I wasn't blowing this off lightly. (...)
            He said: "Michael, I don't want you to take offense at this." (...) "Part of what we're training students to be here is chefs- and when chefs have to be somewhere, they get there," Pardus had said calmly and evenly, not as judgment but as facts.
            "Chefs are the people who are working on Thanksgiving and Christmas, when everyone else is partying," he said. "Or at home with their family."
            He didn't stop there: "You're cut from a different cloth," he told me. (...)
            He knew I was doing a different job, he said. This wasn't meant to be criticism. He just wanted me to understand. He had his job to do, and I had mine, he said. (...)

            "This is a physical world. The food is either finished at six o'clock, or it's not. You're either in the kitchen or you're not. Much of what one learned here was why food behaved as it did. But sometimes there was no room for why. Sometimes why didn't matter. It wasn't simply that excuses were not accepted here-excuses had no meaning at all. The physical facts in any given moment-that was all."



            Do you play with your fingers or with your brain?

            Our brain is what makes the body work.  But when we practice many of us slip back into our childhood habits of training our fingers instead of our brain.

            Consider the empo you use to get a new piece up on its feet. Many people get tempted to play up tempo sooner than the fingers are able to.

            But you have to make the fingers go as slow as the brain needs to go through all of the thought process. Only then can the fingers play accurately.

            When you play faster than the brain can comprehend, the result can only be messy. Repetition at the same tempo won't make it better, but worst, because of the muscle memory of the repeated mistakes.

            When a piece is played as slow as needed for the brain to think, the result will be consistency because of the team work between the brain and the fingers.

            Next time you hesitate to practice a piece twice slower, consider the actual speed your brain has to think at at that tempo, and you'll realize that it's not nearly as slow as you think.

            Picture from http://www.learn2rap.com/ 


            Who is in charge of the tempo here?

            When it comes to musicals, some people think that the tempo of the cast recording is the ABSOLUTE tempo, the perfect tempo that no one should ever stir from.

            Truth is, with every production and cast, the tempo has to be adjusted, and it's a great thing because that's the point of theatre: it's alive, it's real, it's ever-changing.

            Tempo need to change to fit choreography, staging, voices, and the vision of the creative team.

            "The tempo should be faster because that's how it is on the recording" is not a valid argument.


            Picture from http://johnmarkpiano.com/?cat=12


            Are you a rehearsal backseat driver?

            Are you a rehearsal backseat driver? Here are the symptoms!
            • Constantly interrupt the person in charge to give your input on what should be done at that instant, because you think that the way you go about the process is better than the way the leader's way is. 
            • When the director stops acknowledging your comments, you talk to all your coworkers and cast members hoping to get them on your side, thus creating a lot of unnecessary noise and drama. 
            • When the leader disagrees with you, you go to the person above them immediately to try to convince them that you are right and that the leader is wrong.
            If you suffer from any of these symptoms, know that you have to give your trust to the person in charge of rehearsal, and follow their lead for rehearsal, because they have a long-term plan in mind. It's like when you're the passenger of a car. You would never do the same things at the same time the driver does them, but the result is the same: you're at your destination, alive.

            Same for rehearsal, don't be a back-seat driver, trying to control and challenge every step of rehearsal. Trust that your director will get to things you would have done first, and that the result will be as strong.


            Picture from http://outdoors.webshots.com/photo/1136477800055176372jHUXIe


            Do you do your homework?

            My little sister is still in middle school, and was telling me all about her homework. I was about to show off by telling her that I didn't have homework, but then I realized that I indeed do have homework.

            Except that part of my homework is to figure out by myself what my homework is.

            Here are the five most common homework for freelancers, besides the obvious practicing.
                    1. Scheduling: this is one of those things that should be straight forward but that becomes incredibly complicated when you go from place to place and from gig to gig, and you add things into your load when you're not able to write it down immediately (when walking to your car, driving your car, carrying a million scores, etc).

                      Another kind of scheduling homework happens if you work in theatre. Things run more smoothly when I give the stage manager a schedule of how much time I need for each song and with which cast member.

                      To do so takes me a good two to three hours, because it involves looking up the cast to know how much of the show they already know, looking at the music in depth to locate trouble spots, and make the information as clear as possible (title of the song, number of the song, time needed for first rehearsal, time needed for review, who needs to come in when) so that the stage manager can make his magic and incorporate your ideal schedule into the bigger rehearsal scheme of the rehearsal process. If you want more details on how to do this, there it is.

                    2. Find and gather music: If you are ever in charge of putting together a recital or a cabaret show, you know that the difficulty lies in the fact that you have to look at what seems like a billion pieces before deciding on the few that will make it.

                      Comes a point where most of it is picked, but you may not have the right arrangement, or the right key, or not all of the parts. This is just at that particular instant that people usually think that they are done putting the music together, when indeed the next step of actually finding the right key, arrangement and parts matters the most.

                      Otherwise, the rehearsal process will start and nobody will have a clear picture of what's going on, and who is meant to do what when, and in which key, which arrangement you have in mind. Don't confuse your troops now!

                    3. Copy, tape and label music: Unfortunately this is such a daily homework for musicians! Copying and taping music is a never-ending, tedious and time consuming thing to do, but the consequences of not doing so are much too great to postpone doing it: being the one everyone is waiting on to start rehearsing because you can't find the piece, reading from a printed score which closes itself at every bar, sheets of untaped copied music falling on the floor just when the hardest technical spot is coming, etc.

                    4. Reply to emails: Easier said than done when you start rehearsals at 9am, teach all afternoon, and go to evening rehearsals during the week, rehearse all days doing the weekend and play shows at nights!

                      Meanwhile it seems as if the rest of the world is sitting behind a desk where they get to email and make phone calls all day long, and don't seem to understand that when you say you can't call, it is literally that you can not be playing your instrument, hold a phone and talk all at the same time.

                      But anyways, while I do understand how hard replying to people can be, you won't be considered professional if you don't and worst, you might actually loose gigs if you don't reply within 24-48 hours. One word: IPhone (or Droid or Blackberry). Get one. And yes, do reply to the offers you can NOT make as well, and do include recommendations of fellow musicians along.

                    5. Type handout: again, this is one of those boring annoying chores that doesn't seem crucial at first glance. So what if I don't type the cuts in this show for the musicians, I can just tell them what the cuts are! Well yes, but it will have taken you 10 min for every single musician to have gotten it (and by that I mean, they will all have gotten it right away, except for that one who will remain confuse fno matter how many times you explain it), when a simple handout would have done the trick in 2.

                      If you have students and they need directions to the hall for their semester's recital, they will be late or be a no-show if you decided to briefly tell the parents where it was instead of having printed a clear map with an address on it. Simple things do make things simpler!
                       So, get on to your homework now! The sooner you'll do it the sooner you'll be done with it!


                        Are you using your knowledge right?

                        There are things that we know we know. But of course, what matters most is not to know it, but to know when and where to or not to apply it.

                        The most common issues happen when we go from one style to the next, and thinking that because we know one style we know just what to do in the other.

                        For example, a classical chorus director might be asked to music direct a cabaret-type show, and would transfer his knowledge of pure vowels and final consonances to the cabaret, thus taking out just what makes the cabaret style: the raw and raunchy vocal style.

                        A big band conductor who is put in front of a classical orchestra might transfer the customary freedom given to big band musicians to the classical world,  which is actually used to more constant direction from a conductor.

                        A jazz pianist might not realize that improvising and adding stuff when playing a music theatre song with a singer is actually unwelcome in that style and would create confusion for the singer. 

                        If you are ever involved in a music gig from a style even so slightly different from the one you regularly play and you don't agree with what people around you do or say, consider whether those people are playing in their regular styles before speaking up about what you think they're doing wrong, because you might just be the one who is.

                        Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/scarlet-poppy/280143435/


                        How Black Friday has anything to do with you

                        I don't know how true this is, but I heard many times that the best deals on Black Friday are for all the big electronic items. So if you've been looking around for a while for a new instrument, you may want to look at them again today.

                        Here are some websites for great deals on keyboards, guitars, electronic drumsets, speakers, and other smaller items.

                        • Sweetwater.com: if you need an instrument urgently and have no money, sweetwater is offering a special holiday financing with no interest for 12 months. They are holding major sales on big as well as smaller items. 
                        • Guitar Center: many items are 40 and 50% off, and they include non-electronic items like drum sticks, bongos, and acoustic guitars.
                        • Amazon.com: most of the deals right now have $100 to $200 off of their regular prices.
                        • Musicxspot.com: this website helps you by allowing you to print out coupons for specific items on sale in various stores (walmart, kmart, etc).



                        Which side are you on?

                        Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

                        It's when family and friends get together that music listening choices becoming important to set up the right atmosphere.

                        Which leads me to the question: Do you listen to the same type of music you play?

                        When I've talked to other musicians about this, answers are passionately split into two sides.

                        On one side, people think that it is their duty to inform their playing and knowledge by listening to the same type of music they play.

                        For me, even within the same type of music what feels good to hear doesn't always match what feels good to listen. I love to listen to Chopin and Debussy in concerts while not so much Prokoviev, while I prefer playing the latter the best. There is something to be said about what it physically feels like to play a piece.

                        On the other hand are people who absolutely don't listen to the same style of music they play, because they can't turn their professional ear off, which prevents them from fully relaxing. I mostly listen to jazz, which I don't find rewarding to play but which I love.

                        Which side are you on?



                        What to do when you are an actor who sings

                        What do you do when you are auditioning for musicals and you are an actor who sings?


                        If you think that because it is harder for you to sing, chances are you think that you have to prove yourself as a singer to the casting panel. In order to do that, you end up focusing solely on your singing and your acting suffers from it.

                        What happens from there is that casting agents will see you as an average actor and an average singer, instead of realizing that you are an excellent actor who can also sing properly.

                        So if you are an actor who sings: ACT. ACT. ACT.

                        Picture from http://blogs.harrisonhigh.org/chris_hall/2010/08/audition--one-act-play-competition.php


                        What is your kind of power?

                        Conductors, directors and teachers are in positions of leadership, and have to use their power to get things done. The question is: what kind of power?
                        1. Coercive power: this type of power comes from a person who gives punishments, and can withhold rewards or other desirable things (think military boot camp). Although effective, this is more of a negative form of power as people who experience it become resentful of it over time. In the arts, this one is best avoided except in extreme case such as scaring an actor to fire him if he's still on book at dress rehearsal.
                        2. Expert power: related to someone's highly precised skills, this power applies only in that person's skills area, in an environment where people need those skills. Solo instrumentalists hold this one in the public's eye, and often times as well to an orchestra. Soloists have to be careful not to expect to have more leverage from this power with conductors, because they are more on an even-playing field with them.
                        3. Referent power: this is the most "personal" kind of power because it is directly linked to how people respond to that particular person. Movie stars and athletes have referent power, which is why advertisers use them to promote their products. Anyone on the stage gets that one from the audience, but it's better to underestimate that one than to assume it, except at your own risk of looking like you have a "big head." Oh, and teenage boys who play the guitar have this one too!
                        4. Legitimate power: legitimate power comes from the position someone holds: the big boss of a company, anyone in a uniform. Conductors, teachers, directors, casting agent, theatre owner, etc.
                        5. Reward power: this power is held by people who can afford to give rewards, whether financial, extra vacations, more responsibilities, etc. Producers sometimes use that one, theatre camps that give out bonuses, and whomever is in a position to give something away and makes it known.
                        It is important to be aware of all the different types of power to make sure that we are using the right kind.
                        It is helpful for actors to be aware of the different kinds to choose the appropriate one for different characters.
                        And it is also very important to know when it is appropriate to use our power (position of leadership), and when it is NOT (when we're not in charge).

                        What kind of power do YOU use? Which power do you respond to best?



                        Need a motivation boost?

                        I'm very excited because I just found on youtube the channel of USC's music school, which has tons of great videos on everything!

                        There are interviews of teacher, alumni; classical, rock and jazz concerts of students and teachers, etc.
                        Videos talk to musicians at various levels of their career, from high school students considering music schools, to college students, all the way to high level professionals. It's a great resource, particularly for those days where you need an extra push for motivation and inspiration.

                        Some of my favorites include this one on conducting by Larry Livingston, where he talks about the main qualities needed to be a conductor, and about the balance of technique and musicianship.
                        Another one is by violin teacher Eudice Shapiro, who talks about studying the viola in addition to the violin.
                        Kevin Fitz Gerald talks here about the importance of knowing yourself to make great music.




                        How to avoid carrying heavy music books around

                        Whether you play jazz standards from the Real Book, or you're at that point where you have most of your music memorized, but you still need to keep your scores around to check on them once in a while, the easiest thing for you is to simply transfer your music to your iphone.

                         Here are the steps to follow.
                        1. Download the free ibooks application, which allows you to search for free books, purchase new ones, and add all of your pdf to your virtual library.
                        2. Open itunes.
                        3. Drag your desired pdf files into your itunes library.
                        4. Highlight those pdf files to be added. Right click the file and select "get info." Then, select "media type: book."
                        5. Connect your iphone to your computer.
                        6. Plug your iphone into your computer and select "sync books."
                        No more back problems!!!



                        How do you do in the compliment category?

                        Here are two true stories to illustrate the rules of compliments.

                        I was 20 and I had been in the US for just a little over three months, when my conducting teacher gave me a free ticket to the local symphony of which he was the concertmaster.

                        At the end of the concert he introduced me to the conductor. What went through my mind was: "I barely speak English, and anyways, who am I, this young student, to compliment him, this great performer?" So I said hi shyly, and off I went.

                        My teacher caught up to me and said in a stern voice: "talking to a performer after a concert, you always want to find at least one thing you liked, whether it was something throughout the concert, or one small passage, to compliment them on. Talking about something specific from the concert will always mean more to a performer than if you say "good job," or worse yet, nothing."

                        The other lesson comes from my dad, who taught me to never tun down a compliment, and to never change its meaning, such as changing "you look great today" into "oh, do I look like crap the rest of the time?" If you do, people will learn quickly to stop giving you compliments and you'll stop receiving them, even when you do deserve them.

                        As a performer, the world gets divided into two groups: the people who do what you do and to whom you want to be nice, if not for networking, at least for good human behavior; and your audience, who you better be nice to you if you want them to stick by your side.

                        Remember the two rules of compliments: give them, and take them.

                        Picture from http://www.sitalruparelia.com/category/social-media/ 


                        A freelancer's dream world

                        The world decided one day that everyone should answer the same criteria as people who work 9-5, and not to provide options for the rest of us.

                        In my freelancer's dream world, the following questions would never be asked without the optional questions I suggest instead.
                        • Just put your address here: my what? Address? Which one? The one I just left? The one of the hotel I'm in today? The one I'll be at in two weeks? My parents' address? And again, what?! 
                        Optional question: at which email address may we write you to know your current address when we will need to send you something in the mail?
                        • For security purposes please give us your zip code: been moving so much, no idea which zip code they have on file there. Try a couple, fail each time, end up having to prove that no, you're not trying to steal money from your own bank account. 
                        Optional question: Social security number or birth date anyone?!
                        • Just write your boss's phone number: ahem, ahem. Did you not read the line before that asked for my job, where I put freelancer? Do you want me to put my own name down?! "We just need your boss's contact info." I know. I got it. But you didn't. There is no boss. "Well, we need to have a contact info for your boss." Haaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!
                        Optional question: I don't even know why they want to know my boss's phone number, but how about they say "I've been single too long, can you please fix me up with anyone, even if it's not your boss?!"
                        • What's your work phone number: my cell phone. Because I don't have a desk. I move around. And my cell phone is the best number to reach me. No, there is no other number to contact me at. How many numbers do you need to call me at anyways?
                        Optional question: in which way may we reach you the fastest: call, text or email?
                        • What is your monthly salary: which month? Which year? How am I suppose to answer this in one box only?!
                        Optional question: What is your hourly salary? Or: what proofs do you have that you will make those payments on time?

                        It wouldn't take much for the place to be a better place for performers!



                        To sub or not to sub, that is the question

                        Subbing is one of those things that can only do one of two things: open doors, or close doors.

                        The nature of subbing could easily trick us into thinking that whatever we do won't weigh as much for our reputation as our regular gigs, but it turns out that it's often right there that people will judge our value.

                        Say yes to one subbing gig and you'll be called again and again for more, say yes to another and your hard-earned reputation will start being doubted.

                        WHEN NOT TO SUB
                        1. Conducting: if you're asked to be the sub conductor past the first two or three rehearsals, and you say yes, here is what will happen: you won't know the music as well as the musicians because most likely you won't have had the preparation time you would have needed to be ready (if you ever got the score in advance at all).

                          Even if you have already done the piece before, you will never take the exact same tempo as the regular conductor. That shouldn't be a big deal, but it always ends up being a source of frustration for the players. Any ritard, accelerando, and tempo change would also not be like the musicians are used to, along with pretty much anything stylistic. You just can't win.

                        2. Concert: besides for a few exceptions, do not sub for a concert. Never even consider doing it unless you have a score in hand to assess the situation. Do not sub for a concert if you have major solo lines, say high trumpet line in a duet with the singer in a musical.

                          Do not sub for a concert if you would be responsible of setting the tempo at any given time of the concert: so don't do it as an accompanist, don't do it as first violin of a chamber group, don't do it as a conductor.

                        3. Sight-reading: I break that rule all the time, and every so often I'm given a piece to sight read that is clearly not sight-readable. Even if I manage quite alright given the circumstance, there is always someone there to tell me that I missed that one dynamic spot, or that in that section it's more of a rhapsody feeling, or some kind of something.

                          Sadly, no one ever considers sight-reading in a different light than performance-ready, and since the point of sight-reading is that you don't see the score ahead of time, you just can't know in advance if it's gonna do you good or harm you.

                        4. Dress rehearsal: for all the above reasons mentioned, subbing for a dress rehearsal won't work. It's again an issue of tempo, style, and on top of it, everyone involved will become really stressed for the concert because their last rehearsal will have been different from what they're used to do. 
                        WHEN TO SUB
                        1. Conducting: if you have been playing with the actual group that needs a sub, and you have been at all the rehearsals and know all the tempi and everything the regular conductor wants, then you stepping in will work fine.

                          And because the rest of the musicians will already know you, they won't test you like they would a new person. You will help the entire group and everyone will be grateful.

                        2. Concert: you can sub for a concert if you're the only one playing, so basically, if you are a solo pianist!

                          You also can if you are playing the same line as other players around you, say you're another cellist in a symphonic orchestra. You can sub for a concert if you know that no one will be in the audience (student recitals anyone?).

                        3. Sight-reading: it's ok if you're very experience in a particular rep and you've been in similar circumstances before. For example, I've played for a ton of music theatre classes, so I would sub for one in a heart-beat.

                          Same with college auditions for singers. Some of the songs to sight-read at auditions can be tricky at times, but because of the volume of music played at each audition, the ratio of un-sight-readable song to well-done song might be around maybe 5%, so you will be forgiven and still considered an excellent musician.

                        4. Church service: those are usually fine to sub for, as long as you make sure there's not last minute sight-reading of say, a Bach cantata solo or four-part vocal counterpoint.

                        5. Choirs: fine to sub for unless they fall in the categories of conducting, dress rehearsal, or concert.

                        6. Cocktail parties: yes, always. Except for that one time someone gave me a Chopin waltz to sight-read on the spot, I never had anything weird happen at cocktail parties! And they're a ton of fun. 

                        Photo from http://www.ehow.com/how_5596941_become-substitute-teacher-baltimore-city.html


                        What perfect feels like

                        Should I apologize for not writing a post in the past three weeks? You tell me!!

                        I passed my last doctoral orals and am now officially Dr. Geraldine! And I got married on Saturday to the most wonderful man in the world! Oh, and I moved to a new area, found an apartment and bought a new car!

                        So blame me if you'd like, but I would not change a thing if I could redo it all!

                        Now, on to the main content of this post! I opened and closed "Songs for a New World" with the New Theatre of Chesapeake, and the interesting thing of that process was that it was absolutely perfect. Let me repeat those words. It was absolutely perfect. Putting on a show can be a stressful and frustrating process at times, but here are all the moments were I thought things would go wrong and they didn't.
                        1. Extra day off: The director and I had agreed on the schedule when I realized that I needed a day off to go see my then-boyfriend (now husband)'s boot camp graduation. She understood the importance of the event and was flexible with the rehearsal schedule so that I only had to miss a few hours. I made a recording for them to use for those hours.
                        2. Living in the middle of nowhere: two out-of-town actors and I were put in a hotel far from anything without a car. Instead of the theatre deciding that we could just ask for rides when we really needed them, they rented us a car for the entire length of our stay. Independence and freedom!
                        3. Working with a beginner: one of our cast members was new to the theatre process, and my experience with other people in that situation is that they are either defensive, or overly apologetic about anything they do that is not perfect, which actually slows down the process and makes it less fun. Our cast member on the contrary was very flexible and kept her insecurities to herself, which allowed us to make great progress easily.
                        4. Working with a well-known singer: one of our cast members had grown up as a well-known singer in the area, and he could easily have had an attitude of I'm-too-good-for-this, or I-know-everything-better-than-you. Instead, he was very down to earth and embraced the whole process. No divas in the cast and crew made our rehearsal period consistently fun and friendly.
                        5. Call time: for our first rehearsal with the band and the cast, the musicians were hired for 6 o'clock but their call time was indicated for 5 on the schedule. I approached the stage manager about it and her response was: "oh, I worked with orchestras a lot, I know how musicians work, so they can come when they want as long as they're ready to play at 6!" I'm still amazed!
                        6. Tempi: there was this one particular song that took me quite a few tries before I could be consistent with its tempo. The director never tried to adjust the tempo during the song, which would have created confusion among the band and the cast, and frustration for me. She always kept calm and never doubted that it was gonna be fine in the end. She gave me feedback after each run of how the tempo felt, which was really the most helpful thing she could have done.
                        7. Piano gone wrong: when we got to our performance space we realized that the piano was not only out of tune, but it also had some dead strings! I've went to actual piano solo recitals were the non-musicians in charge decide that the pianos don't need the work that the musicians are begging for done, so my expectation was that no one in charge at the theatre would understand that our piano needed work. But they did! We got a fantastic piano tuner in just a few hours into tech rehearsal, and the piano was fixed instantly!
                        There is something magical when all the elements of a show fall into place in such an easy way.
                        What made a process particularly easy, fun and rewarding for you?


                          How to have your own theater-Part 2

                          Lindsay Eure is the big boss of The New Theatre of Chesapeake. In the first part of her interview she told us about her process to open her theatre. In this part, she opens up about how her experience as a performer influences her decisions as a theatre owner, and what people need to think about before opening their own business.

                          How is your background as a performer influencing the decisions you make for your theater?
                          My experience professionally has exposed me to more theater repertoire so I have a lot to pull from. In our area, as far as musical theater goes professionally, like at Virginia Musical Theater, they do a lot more classics and less contemporary work. I want to appeal to the younger generations here too. My exposure to new stuff is helping me influence the season, and what audience will like. Some are less well-known, but that are the new classic. Eventually "Hello Dolly" is not as relevant today and that’s what art is about.

                          "More important than the talent is the personality
                          of the people you work with" 

                          As far as hiring in the industry, in every situation I’ve been, in any production, more important than the talent is the personality of the people you work with. You have to have the right group dynamic. I’ve seen a lot of divas, and I will never hire divas. You think you have to hire the best performer, but you have to hire people that are not jaded. I want to hire people that I see myself reflected in so that we’re all in the same place.

                          "You can't hire someone based on their experience"

                          Sometimes having more experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you are the better candidate. You can’t hire based on experience. That’s a mistake that a lot of people make. People might have been in the industry longer but they’ve  just been getting through. It doesn’t mean they’re good. You have to look beyond that. There is a lot to be said for experience and I’m not denying that, but it can’t make up for certain things: any weakness you had ten years ago you still have. It can’t just be all on paper. You have to talk to people, and see how you communicate together.

                          I didn’t want to base someone on the fact that they were in the industry a long time, but that they wanted to do the job and were good for it. It’s easy for me to say that when I’m young and I don’t have as much experience, so it’s easy for me to give other people like myself the chance. Maybe it’s possible if I were older I would want someone at my level in terms of years paid.  But I think if I can do it, this person can too, even if they have less experience.

                          Is owning your own company on the way of your performing, or does it help it?
                          It’s great actually! It takes up my time and everything, but I’m at a point in my life where I always said I don’t want to direct, I don’t want to teach. I had to prove something to myself as a performer. Now I know I can do a two-hour one-woman show because I did it. I’ve proved to myself I’m where I want to be as a performer. I’m still growing and learning and improving, but I don’t have to prove myself anymore. That feeling freed me up emotionally to do other things.

                          "I've proved to myself I'm where I want to be as a 
                          performer. That freed me up to do other things." 

                          Since then I’ve learned that I have other talents: business, producing and directing, instead of just performing. I always knew I was a good coach, but I didn’t know I could do the other things until I allowed myself to do that. With owning my company, I could do a show and cast myself! I also really enjoy cabaret work, on a small scale, and I have the channels to publicize that through the theatre.

                          So it’s really helped, because I’m building an audience for the theater, and I am the face of the theatre, and therefore I’m building an audience for myself. Most directors that own theatre are not performers, so that makes a difference. That’s been what’s gotten us a lot of support, is me performing after a speech to get sponsors. If I cast myself as something, because I am the face of the show, people will come for that.

                          "I just happen to be the right person for the job"

                          What should performers consider before opening their own company?
                          I think I could and list all the attributes and qualities that I have to do this, but it’s so much for than that. So much is circumstantial. I’m not saying you can’t climb any mountain, but in my case, there is a niche in Chesapeake, because we are the only and first theatre company. The groundwork was laid as I had a lot of connections in the area, it’s a homecoming, so people are able to welcome me that way.

                          So it’s circumstantial and psychological. It’s the right time, and I just happen to be the right person for the job. But it’s not me. If it weren’t the right circumstances, I probably wouldn’t even had the idea. It can be done, but you’ll start smaller and work harder. We’re moving really fast. We’re needed so we’ve gotten a lot of support.

                          "It's an exciting time"

                          Any last thought?
                          On a personal note, it’s just so nice to feel that you’ re finally doing what you are called to do. I was called to perform and I’ll continue to do that, but it was never everything. There were road blocks, and signs that were pointing me in a different direction. It’s nice to know that I am on the right path now. It’s exciting to be at the beginning of a journey this way. I’m at such a good spot in my life. I’m taking note and just go: “remember this.” Once the company grows, we’ll go back and remember this. It’s an exciting time.



                          How to create your own theatre- Part 1

                          Lindsay is the kind of woman who you would easily be intimated by if she weren't so incredibly down-to-earth. She has an unlimited amount of energy, and her confidence gives you no doubt that whatever she puts her mind to she can make work at its highest level possible. You guessed it, I am a fan of the woman, which is why I wanted to share her process of creating her own theater, the New Theatre of Chesapeake, with all of you.

                          What made you want to create your own theater?
                          Wanting to do something beyond myself, beyond performing a role and being done. I came back here to do a one-woman show at the Wells theater, and I was back and forth between New York and Virginia. My family is right here and I am very family oriented. When I was here I couldn’t help but notice that the art community in Chesapeake was still as non-existent as it was when I had left many many years ago. It seems like a shame because we have many art patrons, and we are the third largest city in our state. Aside from having no venue and no theater company, we don’t have an arts organization that teaches theatre to kids. People have to drive to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, which is hard for people to do. I lived here, and I had to travel all around. It was a lot.

                          "You can't get people excited twice"

                          I was thinking about doing more directing and producing, and nobody had the experience that I had. My grand mother had a lot of experience locally in the arts, she was the city council woman. She lives in Chesapeake now but she lived 30 years in Virginia beach, and she was in politics there. She helped to get the Sandler Center built in Virginia Beach when she was on council, and she helped to establish the foundation for the Governor’s school for the arts. She was all about business, but she was asked to do a lot of things for the arts.

                          "It seemed like everything was already in place"

                          She has a lot of great contacts in Chesapeake, so it seemed like the perfect line up of expertise for the theatre. I am learning a lot of the business and politics from her. Together we’ve been able to create a line up of great board members. We’ve been recruiting a board of directors since January, and we already have a show this September. You can’t get people excited twice, our season had to start in the fall and fast. It seemed like everything was already in place, and doors were opening, and I couldn’t ignore them. I believe that God has a plan for you, even if you think you know what you’re suppose to do. This was nothing I ever thought of doing before.

                          What were the practical steps you had to take to get there?
                          Incorporating, applying for non-profit status, that’s a lot of work. A lot of phone calls and paperwork. Establishing a board of directors. Speaking and presenting ourselves to different organizations, to business people in the city, the chamber of commerce, different groups; people that get things done and people that facilitate and have money or who help to get money; people that have a mind for service, or for getting their name out. Typical business and politics.

                          "My training as a performer is my ability to 
                          demand focus and to manipulate energy" 

                          How did being a performer helped you in the process of creating your company?
                          I didn’t know that I could do public speaking and I have spoken at a lot of different engagements. My training as a performer is my ability to demand focus and to manipulate energy. Unless you have a knack for public speaking you might not make as much an impact as you should, so my background helps me get through to people. My credentials back up what I’m doing. People don’t wonder how I could pull it off because I have the background to show for it.

                          "We're still facing challenges"

                          What were some of the challenges you had to face?
                          We’re still facing challenges. Fundraising is a challenge and will  continue to be a challenge throughout the life of the theater, especially now and the times we are in. Getting the word out is a challenge. You really have to work on getting free press, and we’ve been really blessed in that area, because we have a lot o free press for different events we’ve done, and some local TV stuff.

                          A specific challenge is venue. Our city doesn’t have a venue so we are creating a venue by bringing in staging, mounting lighting, and putting up pipe and draping curtains. We have to prove that we have a real theater company and that will help build a real theater. It’s more financially draining to create a theater than to work in an already existing space.



                          4 stages of working in a new environment

                          As artists we are meant to travel very often. Whether you are touring through a new country for a few weeks, or going to your summer theatre gig for a few months, everyone goes through the same stages when moving to a new place, no matter how long you're there for.
                          1. Excitement: also called the "honeymoon period." You love everything and everyone, you're euphoric, and you love all the differences. You still feel close to home.
                          2. Distress: Nothing feels new anymore, you don't understand the differences, you feel anxious, you begin to criticize and make fun of the other people and spend more time on your own. You feel alone and realize that home is far away.
                          3. Adjustement: You idealize life back home, but you have a new routine and you have a new sense of confidence when dealing with differences. You start to appreciate where you are.
                          4. Enthusiasm:  You are now enjoying where you are, you start to appreciate some aspects of your new environment better than some back home, you start to make your own some of the new things, you are yourself again, and you start to feel at home. 
                          Those stages can be felt more or less strongly depending on the circumstances. For example if you are touring with your rock band in a new country, your band members will help you feel at home through it all. If you travel alone to a new place of your own country, you will feel the stages more strongly. It is important to know what to expect beforehand so that when you are in the midst of it, you can recognize what is going now and trust that you feel better soon.


                          Auditioning out of town? Do it cheap!

                           If you are ever brought to audition for schools, jobs, shows or if you simply have to be out of town for your job, here is one of the coolest way to save some money.

                          Instead of going to a hotel which will cost you not only the price of the room, but also will force you to eat out because there won't be a kitchen in your room, you can book a place to stay at Air bed and breakfast.

                          You can rent directly from their website anything from a couch in a sitting room to a whole apartment to yourself. It's cheaper than a hotel, you get to make your own meals, and you may make some new friends at the same time.
                          And you may also rent your own room out while you're away too!

                          You can sign up online for free, post and check out pictures of the places, and reserve online. The whole process is made so that it's safe for everyone.



                          3 ways to make money while you sleep

                          What is the one thing that freelance artists all have in common? Working tons of hours that don't pay enough. What is the one thing that all millionaires have in common? Assets. Financial resources that bring you money independently from the amount of hours you put in. As an artist, here are three options that you should seriously consider to create assets:
                          1.  Rent something out: I had a friend who had bought the giant puppet plant from "Little Shop of Horror" for a couple hundreds of dollars, and who rented it to local productions around his area. He was reimbursed the cost of the plant the first time he rented it out, and anything he made from it afterward was all for him to keep. He also knew how to work the plant so some of the theatres hired him as well. I had another friend you had bought a house and rented out two of the rooms in there, which payed for her mortgage. You could rent out any piece of equipment too: sound system, keyboard, drums, etc.
                          2. Have people work for you: For example if you work for events, you could create a list of musicians to offer to your clients, and charge a price for your work as a contractor. If you already have tons of hours in your private studio, hire an extra teacher to take on even more hours, and keep a percentage of the transaction. It may look like such easy money at first that it might feel like you're taking advantage of people, but this is exactly how the world works: you offer work to someone and they increase your bottom line. It's a win-win situation.
                          3. Sell something: for musicians the most obvious asset to sell is a cd. Cds are so cheap to make these days, and once they're recorded you can sell them at your concerts, on cdbaby, itunes, etc. If you're a teacher you can make your own method and sell it to your students, and show it to other teachers to see if they would want to use it and have their students buy it.
                          Assets are very important to be had by freelance performers because they're a good security blanket to have for the dry months. There are even more important for women who want children, to stay afloat financially during the few months before and after birth.



                          What you can learn from Mad Men

                          The show Mad Men is full of brilliant bits of wisdom on work, marketing and advertising. Here is the one quote that I remind myself of when I am tempted to be self-conscious and shy:
                          "If you want to be taken seriously, talk to your boss like he's your equal, and stop talking to him like he's your boss."



                          How the Internet is helping the performing arts

                          Here is a hopeful message from Ben Cameron, who challenged the belief that the Internet is killing the arts, and who points the way to a democratized society for the arts, where artists are hybrid and maintain their dignity.



                          How to be a savvy traveling artist

                          As performing artists we often have to travel to and from gigs at our own expenses. Unfortunately it often means that we loose one or two weeks salary in the process.

                          We all know that the price of plane tickets change on a regular basis and it's hard to know if we are getting a good deal or if we should just wait a few more days to get a better one.

                          Here comes a very handy tool to solve that problem: farecast. Simply put in your travel destinations and dates of travel, and on top of giving you the usual rates, the website will also give you a price predictor.

                          The price predictor tells you whether the tickets will most rise, drop or stay steady. Even more important, it tells you the percentage at which they believe their prediction is at. So it may say: 68% chance that the prices will drop, or 75% chance that the prices will increase. Not only that, the website will also tell you how much of an expected drop or increase the prices will go!

                          Unless you are buying at the last minute and have no other choice than to purchase your tickets right away, this is really a wonderful tool to help you get to your gigs as cheap as possible!

                          What are your tricks for traveling cheaply? Do you have to travel much for your art?



                          The one thing to do when you meet new people

                          When you work as a freelance performer, you have to meet tons of new people all the time. You are interviewed over the phone by people you've never met, you have to collaborate with people you've never worked with before, and you are constantly making first impressions.

                          Here is the one thing to do to ensure a successful start for each new relationship.

                          Assume Rapport.

                          Act as if you already have a good relationship with the person. Go into each first meeting as if you were meeting a really good friend. You will avoid over-thinking which would make the conversation stiff and awkward. You will be more spontaneous and relaxed, which will make the other person that way also.

                          What is YOUR strategy to having a successful first meeting?



                          The 3 rules to achieving anything

                          An article from the Harvard Business Review talks about the three conditions needed for you to succeed. One of them is not as common knowledge as the others!
                          1. You want to achieve it
                          2. You believe that you can achieve it
                          3. You enjoy trying to achieve it
                           It is the third rule of achievement that is most often overlooked! If you are a performing artist you most certainly live for being on the stage, but do you enjoy all the other things that come before getting there?
                          • Audition over and over for a part
                          • Practice
                          • Do business stuff: take headshots, make business cards, build a website, make flyers, etc.
                          • Rehearse
                          • Make recordings for competitions, jobs, grants, etc.
                          Whatever it is that you have to spend a lot of time doing before getting to where you want to be, you have to enjoy it. Otherwise, you won't do as much of it, and you will wonder why even though you want to achieve it and you believe that you can achieve it, you're not actually achieving it.

                          Picture from http://smallbusiness.uprinting.com/achieve-your-goals/
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