The 2 kinds of stressed musicians on stage

Have you ever performed and screwed up where you normally never screw up? Or started thinking so much ahead of time that you forgot what to play at the moment? Or froze and couldn't remember what as coming next?

In the book What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell (the author of Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point, and writer for the New Yorker) explains how nervousness shows up in one of two different ways: chocking or panicking. Here is the difference, and how it translates into performance.
  • Panicking

    That's when you stop thinking. For example when you forget where you are in the music and you can't think of options to get back into it, or when you do a rhythmic mistake and you can't think of what beat you're on or what makes a beat (quarter note, half note, eight note?).
  • Chocking

    That's when you think too much, the same way you did when you first learned how to play your instrument or the piece; when the technique of a piece had become a habit, that happened mechanically, and that in performance you start thinking of every single note and gesture and rhythm and emotional content and phrasing, etc.
    You lose your instincts.
By thinking back on stressful past performances, we can see what the pattern is, and if we tend to chock or panic. Once we know that, we are better able to anticipate a response for the next time that happens, and we are more prone to understand what is happening as it is happening, helping us to fix it rather than letting it control us.

More power to us!



Four perks for performers

Virtually every job gets some perks, right? Teachers get tons of vacations, finance people get free stock options, electricity people probably get cheaper electricity, the cable guy gets free cable, CEOs get to tell everyone what to do, cooks get to eat good food, etc. What about us musicians?

Here is what I think should be our perks:
  1. Greatly discounted tickets to any music and theater event (Broadway show, symphony concerts, etc), particularly for when you're not a student anymore.
  2. Discounts on scores and scripts (like teachers have on books)
  3. A free fixing of your instrument after 9 uses, or a free make up kit for actors (punching a card like at the hair dresser or at the deli)
  4. One resident masseuse/acupuncturist/chiropractor at any gig that requires long hours of intense rehearsing (orchestra rehearsals, opera rehearsals, accompanying auditions, etc.)
But even if we don't get any of those perks, at least we don't get that either:
Add your own idea for perks in the comment section!



New York New York!

I am going to New York this weekend, and here's what I'm listening to prepare for the trip! Oh yeah baby!


I Hate Music

I hate music, but I like to sing
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, laaaa!
But that's not music! Not what I call MUSIC, no sir!
Music is a lot of men with a lot of tails making lots of noise like a lot of
Music is a lot of folks in a big dark hall where they really don't want to be
at all with a lot of chairs and a lot of heirs and a lot of furs and diamonds!
Music is silly
I hate music...but i like to sing

From the song cycle "I hate music" by Bernstein.


Can you tell a composer from a score?

My doctoral orals are in two days, and one of the challenges I'll have to face will be to tell a composer from a random piece of music.

Here are some of the things I am looking for in a score to tell one composer from the other.

  • Scarlatti: More figured-bass oriented. Looks almost like Mozart.
  • Donizetti: a little more adventurous than Bellini. Use of ornaments, Alberti bass. Some chromaticism.
  • Bellini: many short piano and voice pieces. 
  • Donaudy: more bel canto in that the accompaniment supports the voice, but richer than bel canto. Lots of instructions on the page. Strophic.
  • Tosti: more sophisticated than Donaudy.
  • Puccini: piano parts look like orchestral reductions.
  • Respighi: elaborate piano parts, frequent modulations, advanced harmonic language. Italian Wolf. Chromatic, lush.
  •  Brahms: Hemiolas. Accents on weak beats. Flok like. 1+1+2 phrase structure.
  • Schumann: tempo markings often "Nicht Schnell." Middle voices. Strong dynamic contrasts.
  • Strauss: orchestral, thick chords, long phrases.
  • Wolf: very chromatic, shorter phrases. Piano part motivic, not broad. Lots of changes.
  • Offenbach: more operetta than Massenet. 
  • Massenet: a cross between Gounod and Offenbach.
  • D'Indy: looks like Franck
  • St Saens: harmony very romantic, close to Schumann.
  • Chausson: more harmonically out there.
  • Duparc: orchestral piano parts, really big.
  • Hahn: like Faure, set the same texts as Faure, but not as advanced as Faure. More than one mood in a song. His songs look like light Faure.
  • Debussy: declamatory vocal lines. Stresses don't always match the right words. 4ths, 5ths and octaves.
  • Millhaud: short songs. Polytonal.
  • Messiaen: octatonic scales.
  • Barber: really hard piano parts. Romantic and lush.
  • Copland: very spare, wide chords on the piano. Lots of open fifths.
  • Bernstein: very rhythmic, more popular influence. 
  • Ives: polytonal, cluster chords, motives. 
  • Bartok: one motif in one voice, picked up by other voices. 
  • Hindemith: neo classical, traditional concepts of organization and design combined with newer material. 
  • Prokovief: more rhythmic drive.More playful.
  • Shostakovitch: spare textures.
There. You. Go.
Your turn!

Photo from http://guides.library.ubc.ca/music


How to be noticed by the hiring powers

I assume that all of you artists out there know that you have to be proactive in order to make a living out of your art: replying to ads for gigs every day, telling everyone that you're available, giving away business cards, having a website, a resume at hand, headshots, etc...

I've just recently came to realize that being proactive is not enough these days, and that more and more people are being more than PROactive, they're being PREactive.
Let me explain. Here are three good things to do as a preactive artist:
  • Reply to ads that are NOT for you. For example, I wanted to hire this drummer I had worked with for a show, but he wasn't available. I had previously posted an ad for a bass player, and this one drummer had let me know that he was available and interested in playing the show. When the drummer I wanted didn't work out, guess what?  I didn't post a new ad and sort through thousands of emails, I contacted that one drummer that stuck out of the pile of bassists, and he's been the drummer of the show ever since!
  • Contact the people that are in charge of a project you want to be a part of. I had been working as a pianist for this theatre program for a few years, and I had told them that I wanted to music direct, but they never did musicals. Well, they did decide to do musicals, but by the time I learned about it, the director of the program (who didn't know me), had hired a music director. I thought that the job naturally belonged to me, but you know what? A new music director from the area had contacted the director of the program as soon as he had heard about the show, and he got hired for it. Two lessons in there: tell people you don't know that you want to be a part of their project, and know people who are in charge of hiring at your work place.
  • Help the person in charge of hiring with something that matters. I was looking for singers to work with, and after auditioning a bunch of people I found this awesome girl, nice, pretty, and of course, a talented actor and singer. That was enough for me, but before she had even come in to audition, she had let me know about this other singer that would be interested and put us in contact. When that singer didn't work out, she told her friends about my project, and had somebody else email me, that ended up doing the show. Do I want to work with her again? You bet!
Do you think preactive is the way of the future, or do you think it's not worth the effort? Have you ever been preactive?



What to play on a tropical island

In the Island of the Reunion, where I lived for eight years, a favorite style of pop/folk music is Sega-Maloya. Sega and Maloya were originally two different styles, but they are now quite similar, so people talk about them as one.
Here are some contemporary versions of it:

Those songs really remind me of my childhood, even if those examples are much more recent than when I was there.


10 tips on how to be a great teacher

The collaborative piano department at Boston University had a master class with Dr. Andrew Campbell, from Arizona State University.

Here is what makes Dr. Campbell an example to follow for anyone who wants to teach in an inspiring way:
  1. He shared his own personal struggles with the music. My friend Ling played the Kreutzer sonata by Beethoven. After congratulating her on her playing, he explained how she might find ease technically by mentally stripping the texture from its business down to the actual musical theme.

    He also talked about the difficulty of being together with the violinist and ways he had discovered to solve those problems with visual cues after playing it many times with his wife, a violinist.

  2. When he talked about phrasing, he never imposed his own ideas on anyone. He offered a few suggestions, but never seemed to think that he had the right answer. He shared what he heard, which was a lack of phrasing, and trusted the student to find their own way.

  3. He explained why teachers pick on what's wrong instead of focusing on what's right. "If a violin player plays out of tune the whole time, well, too bad. But if a violinist plays in tune 80% of the time, then the 20% that is not in tune becomes really annoying."

    Just by saying that, he made the entire room understand that the performer had done 80% of right thing. How comforting!

  4. When a problem happened in the performance, he called it a "booboo," turning it into a lesson instead of something shameful. For example, when a singer forgot the words to a song and that her and the pianist had to start again from where they left off, many teachers would have made a big deal about it.

    He simply said that it was life and that that king of things happen often enough, and took that opportunity to teach us about what to do if that situation was to happen on stage.

  5. After he asked performers to change things, he complimented them on their ability to make an adjustment so fast, which many teachers take for granted.

  6. He talked about the piano with detachment, making the instrument itself the reason of difficulties and challenges in the performer's playing, instead of the performer's playing itself.

  7. When he mentioned more than two points to a performer, he summarized all of them one last time right before the performer try the piece again.

  8. He asked a few times if the performer's playing was enjoyable to them, either during the first time performing, or when performing with adjustments. This was a good reminder that originally, we all came to music for fun, and that even when working, enjoyment is to be found.

  9. He was conscious of the impact he could have on students. When he asked more of someone than of someone else, he asked he was being too mean, or he mentioned that he was being very picky at that moment. That way students focused on the work at hand, and did not take things personally.

  10. He seemed to want to learn from the students. He asked many questions, and was happy to discover that some students had thoughts of things that were new to him.
My personal favorite moment of the afternoon was when after hearing two students of the collaborative department perform, he told our teacher: "you are a lucky lady hearing this level of playing very day."

In the end, what I think this all comes to, is, to be a great teacher, one has to be a great human being.

Picture from http://www.life.com/image/50671184


How to Become a Doctor

Here are the requirements to graduate with a Doctorate of Musical Arts at Boston University:
  • five recitals filling various requirements
  • a six-hour long music history exam
  • a six-hour long music theory exam
  • a gazillion credits 
Hard enough, right? Well, that's not it! Before you claim the doctoral prestige, one more thing:
  • the doctoral orals exam, with five academic professors, with questions given about three weeks in advance 
My orals are in ten days, and yes, I am in denial. So maybe this post will remind me of reality: 10 days, Geraldine, 10 days!!!

For anyone considering doing a doctorate, here is why you shouldn't (besides the fact that you'd be losing precious years of youth and gaining a few gray hair in the process): take a look at the questions I was given for my orals.

  • all of music theory (figure out the composers from random sheet of music, give name of chords in random pieces of music, ...)
  • Sondheim's composition was Milton Babbitt; consider "The widow's lament in springtime" by Babbitt and explain how the piece is put together. Does it have any commonalities with anything about Sondheim's music (consider as well how the words are set to music).
  • Look at Possente Spirto from Orfeo by Monteverdi and compare it to the baker's climactic song from Into the Woods. Compare the scenes that contain these two numbers. 
  • Discuss the compositional strategies that Sondheim uses in Merrily we roll along and Assassins.   
  • Name 4-5 American composers including women. Discuss their songs and compositional styles/characteristics. Identify performers living today that are advocates of this art form.  
  • Discuss two or three of the main methodologies for piano teaching for beginners. Identify their strong and weak points, and talk about ways to incorporate additional materials for the development of techniques (scales-arpeggios), sight reading, theory and repertoire development. 
  • Prepare music terminology relating to vocal music and chamber music in English, Italian, German and French. Look at 20th century scores as well. 
  • The mainstream of music history (no more details from that teacher)
Worse comes to worse, maybe I can use this excuse:

If you know anything about any of the topics above, please share your knowledge with me! If you don't know anything about any of the topics, support will do!


Seussical Jr. Opening Day

After a (normal) intense and painful tech week we opened Seussical Jr. this afternoon, and it went quite well, besides a few not too important itches (the piano cable fell off the piano, a kid fell off his chair, a light fell off, etc.).

After the opening, the creative team and a few other people went out, which is always that much more fun when it's the afternoon! Here is the (only ) picture of the event:

I am definitely glad I got to work with these folks (from left to right): dancer/choreographer Rachel Bertone, stage manager Sarah Perlin, and actor/director Steven Gagliastro.

And on to the next nine performances!


How to act when you sing

Classical singers are expected to be strong actors but are not often given the training required in order to do so. I have found that often times teachers and coaches do talk about the emotional meaning of a song, but tend to assume that it will be enough for the singer to translate that knowledge into a powerful and meaningful performance.

As theatre artists very well know though, there is a big difference between thinking something and showing that same thing. It would be best for the singers to also have the many movement classes to become aware of their entire body (not just what the body does when it sings) in order to figure out how to show what they think and feel.

I know many singers who want to get to that next level of performing, and teachers and coaches that want to help singers with that, so here is a great resource: Acting for singers, creating believable singing characters, by David Ostwald.

What helped you become a better singer actor? What book, what teacher, what show? What do you think makes it hard for some singers to act?


Ever want to break free from your art?

I am a musician. On days like today, when I have so much to learn and practice and teach, I loose my ability to enjoy music. I close off and am not passionate about it at all. I just want to go on spring break in Cancun and forget about music forever.

The thing is, I am not just a musician. I am so much more, and I actually like the fact that music is not my entire life. I know so many people that cannot get away from their instrument and that fully define themselves with their art, and it's great for them and a part of me envies that.

I personally love spending three weeks not touching a piano or singing during Christmas break when I go back to France, and that feeling I get back when I finally get back to playing, how new and fun and exciting it is again. I love that when people get worked up in a situation concerning music and theatre, I always have in the back of my mind that it's only music, it's only theatre. There's life outside of it, there are many other important things outside of it.

Is it easy to think that and live as a musician? No, not at all. It sometimes make me feel like an outsider; I often wonder if I'm a fake; I wonder if it shows a lack of commitment to my art.

But somehow, when I think about how not serious music, theatre and art are, that is what actually keeps me
going, because I keep on choosing to do it instead of feeling like a slave to it. It's like any other human relationship, not easy and requiring not only love but also a lot of work, and even more importantly commitment.

I don't know if this makes much sense, but I would love to hear from you guys if you ever think that way too. How do you relate to your art? Do you have a love hate relationship with it? Do you sometimes want to break free from it?


How to make people love classical music

Talk like this guy! Play like this guy! Be this guy!

Musician Baby Blues

I just finished my last doctoral exam. The last one of five. They all went great and better and better. I just celebrated with friends. I've been looking forward to this day for so long.
And I'm pretty sad.
Because it's the last one. And because the beauty of school is, you learn along the way. And I learned to not only be a good pianist, but also that I love to produce and direct. And now that this was my last recital, I'm wondering when will be the next time that I will get to produce and direct and play my own shows.
And besides that, for each show I got to meet amazing people and I'm not ready to say goodbye. Of course, you can always meet again, but more often than not, people get too busy and before you know it you've lost track of each other.
I am grateful for tonight and for the past three years, and scared for the future and hopeful for the future too.
In transition....
Oh, and here are the pictures!

Kevin, Rachel, De'Lon, Kami and me:

And me and my man


How to help other musicians

 A lot of what I've learned about being a working musician comes from other musicians who were king enough to share their thoughts with me. One of the most resourceful blogs and one of my favorite websites  for musicians is Musician Wages. There are articles on how to conduct from the piano, how to create an online presence and the average income of a musician. One of the most insightful writers is music director/ pianist David Hahn who writes about calculating a musician hourly rate, top 10 gigs who may not have thought of, and  tips on resume and business cards.

Sometimes it feels like we're in competition with one another but life gets so much better when we help each other. What is your way of helping? Who has helped you and in what ways?

Photo from: http://www.cartoonstock.com/lowres/jfa2465l.jpg


How to play music on a tropical island

Because I grew up on the Reunion Island by Madagascar and  Mauritius, which is a part of France but so far from it that really it's not, I got to listen to a lot of different styles of music. One of the preferred music there is called zouk, which means party in creole, and which is a rhythmic style of music. Here's what you need to be playing to play out there!

This one makes me so happy because it reminds me of so many great memories, and because it is just so fun.

This one is really typical and also very famous there!
Related Posts with Thumbnails