Should singers have to be scoped?

I have played for voice lessons for many years, many taught by wonderful voice teachers, and some by less wonderful voice teachers.

It is usually known in any institution who the good voice teachers are, but many freshmen get put with the less good teachers, and because freshmen are eager to learn and want to do well, they trust their teacher no matter their reputation.

It kills me when I play for freshmen who sound healthy at the beginning of the year and who slowly loose their voices in just a few months. I've noticed that by as early as February, there is a clear difference between the students of good voice teachers and the rest of them. And I always wonder what keeps the students of the less good teachers from noticing that they are not advancing as fast and as well as the other ones. I figure that if they realized that they were loosing their voices they would ask to change studio. I feel so powerless in those situations, because I can't say anything without being out of line.

 In talking about this issue on a hike today with my friend Laura Jo Trexler (who is a wonderful singer actor), she came up with the idea that there should be a mandatory scope exam of the vocal folds at the end of freshman year. It certainly would help shine light on the teachers that overall keep their students healthy, and the ones that overall don't (of course there is always the individual exception). 

The students would see if they have any injury, which one, get treatment for it and see a vocal health specialist. If realize that other students in their studios have issues as well while students from other studios don't, they can make the connection between their vocal health and their voice lessons faster than if they wait to audition for grad school to hear from other teachers that they need to start learning how to sing pretty much all over again.

Do you think that a mandatory scope would help students find and stay with good teachers? What other solutions are there to help young singers realize if their voice lessons are helping them or hurting them?



Are you a healthy musician?

I was diagnosed with tendinitis in my right hand at the age of 16, which started a long series of struggles, search for solutions, and interest in the field of performing arts medicine

What I've learned from all I had to go through is that non-specialized doctors, particularly sports doctors, have no understanding of musicians and of what kind of physical stress practicing causes, and how to solve any of it. The only consistent advice I got from everyone was to drink water, and some doctors suggested I play less loud or I play less notes!

I tried pain killers, on-skin patches, chiropractic, not playing piano for months at a time, not using my hand for months at a time, Chinese medicines, application gels, acupuncture, apple cider tablets, Alexander technique, and even a cortisone shot (an interesting experience where the doctor ended up pocking himself with the needle he had just taken out of  my arm!).

The recurring theme in the music world was that if I had an injury it was because I was doing something wrong when playing. Some teachers told me that I was playing too tense, but I learned recently that I have the opposite problem. I am hyper-flexible, so I need to "hold" my wrists when playing, because the range of motion is so big that is what actually creates inflammations.

A high percentage of musicians suffer from recurring pains in their wrists, arms, shoulders, backs, and vocal cords for the singers. The most at risk are violinists, harpists, drummers, cellists and pianists.

If a physical injury was caused by people not playing their instrument the "right" way, does it mean that violinists, harpists, drummers and pianists are less good musicians than people playing other instruments?

I don't think so.

I suffered a lot from the stigma that was put on my injury, and the association people made that I wasn't playing "right." I sure hope that as the field of performing arts medicine grows, more and more musicians will understand that as some professional athletes suffer injuries from over doing it, so do some musicians.



What travels have you done for your art?

It is in bathing in the mineral hot tubs of Pagosa Springs, CO that it dawned on me that life as a musician isn't always about the making of the art, but about what comes with being able to make the art.
Namely: Travel.
A performer has to be flexible enough to take gigs in different places in order to keep on working. 
So, here are some pictures of some of the places I got to visit in order to my job.

I got to wake up to this view in New Hampshire

I got to ride this hydroplane in the Adirondack Park, NY

I visited the Botanical Gardens of Fort Worth, TX

I went to the JFK museum in Dallas, TX

I hiked the mountains of Creede, Colorado

I also got to do two road trips:
  1. TX to MA, where I got to eat in Memphis at the Neelys (the restaurant of Food Network show Down Home with the Neelys) and spend the night at the famous hotel with a guitar shaped pool in Nashville. 
  2. Boston to Colorado, where I visited some of my favorite people in Kalamazoo, MI (where I used to live), have lunch in Chicago, and have dinner in Denver. Fun times!
Where did you get to go thanks to your job?



How screwing up helps you to memorize

For a long time I thought that if I tried to play from memory in front of my friends before I was ready, it would result on me becoming self-conscious for ever after.

Turns out I was wrong.

Scientific American Mind cites a study "which showed that trying and failing to retrieve the answer do help in learning," because "students who make an unsuccessful attempt to answer a test question before receiving the correct answer remember the material better than if they simply study the information."

In other words, next time that you have to memorize a script or a play, start to do it in front of people early on when you're gonna screw it up, because that will help you retain it sooner and better, rather than start later and repeat it for yourself in a row a thousand times, because it won't work as well.



How to Make Connections- AdamReifsteck Interview Part 2

The first part of Adam Reifsteck's interview was about his journey as young musician to finding a balance between his work as a composer and as the membership manager of Chamber Music America. This second part delves into the importance of making connections, and how to do that best. 

Geraldine: What types of musicians benefit most from being a part of Chamber Music America? Why should anyone join?
Adam: It goes back to the whole process of collaboration.  What led me to CMA is that desire to help people realize that you’re not out there alone. You need a support system; you need to learn from your colleagues, collaborate with them, come up with projects with them, and see what other people are doing and see where you can fit in and where you can be a part of what they’re doing.

Being a member of CMA allows you to network with other colleagues that are doing the same thing you are, learning from them, and at the same time getting benefits that help you out like listings in our online and printed directories, also discounted instrument insurance and discounts on car rentals, hotel accommodations, etc. So if you’re a chamber musician, whether you’re a world, jazz, classical, or experimental musician, you need to be a member of CMA there’s no question about that!

Geraldine: Working at CMA have you learned of anything that professional musicians do that young musicians are not aware that they should be doing?
Adam: It’s having an entrepreneurial spirit, it’s not enough to just be good at your instrument. You can be the best musician, but you need to learn how to market yourself,  to collaborate with other people and administer your own music.

"Young musicians need to create 
their own opportunities"

There’s that whole administration side now that people think “oh, I’m just going to get an artist manager to do it for me. “ Art managers still exist, but their rosters are full most of the time. Young musicians coming out need to create their own opportunities.
That’s why you need to invest in professional development that is not only incorporating how you play your instrument but how you sell yourself and how you sell your art. You need to find opportunities that allow you to explore that sort of thing, whether it’s like in my instance a job opportunity or through professional development opportunities, through seminars and workshops.

That’s something that organizations like CMA do, and other organizations do it too if you’re not a chamber musician. They can help you navigate this business of music, because it is a business. Find people to share your vision, you can’t go at it alone, even if you’re not part of an organization, you have to network.

Geraldine: And meeting people in person is the best branding there is because you’re there, meeting people in person.
Adam: When you go to social situations like cocktail parties, concerts, receptions, and you meet people, you want to talk to them about what they’re doing and say a little bit about what you.  You don’t want to use that as a selling opportunity. You just want to use that as a way to get to know the person and see what kind of project they’re up to and what kind of projects they’re interested in. Down the road after you made that contact you say “oh I have this project, let me call so and so that might be good for this project“.

You can’t go in telling them “Listen to my music, listen to my music, and take a CD!” That’s not going to work. You talk about the business side of things, what people are up to, what they’re doing, what their passions are and what you’re passions are, sharing your life with somebody, beyond just trying to sell directly. You are selling yourself but in such a way that it fosters collaboration and community, not “How can I use you?”

"People in the arts 
who are successful are
the ones working collaboratively" 

People in the arts who are successful are the ones working collaboratively.  People that use other people only as a means to an end--I think that is a dangerous way of doing business. Become friends with people, don’t be just colleagues.



How to start a career in music- Adam Reifsteck Interview- Part 1

Adam Reifsteck  has been one of my closest friends since we met at Western Michigan University where we did our masters. He is now the membership manager at Chamber Music America, and  we often talk about the music world and what it takes for young artists to make it nowadays. Because I always find what Adam has to say very interesting and accurate, I thought you guys would too!
Geraldine: Can you tell us a little bit about you and your musical background?
Adam: I have my bachelor’s from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, in music technology, and a master’s in composition from Western Michigan University, not focused in electronic music, but more on the “traditional” writing for chamber music and choral music.

That was nice because I had the technology background and the master’s program allowed me to focus on the craft, the music behind the music if you will. Then it eventually turned into an almost full-time job when I became the director of contemporary music at Saint Catherine of Siena Church in Portage, MI, while completing my master’s degree.

Geraldine: How did your job at St Catherine relate with your background as a composer?
Adam: I had the opportunity to write music while working there, writing different psalms settings to be used in worship, and writing worship music. It helped me experiment with writing more accessible music instead of more experimental music.

Taking what I’ve learned from song writing and what I’ve learned from the craft of composition and merging the two together led to what I’m writing now which is combining popular elements with more traditional writing, as well as incorporating electronic elements.

" Be true to the art form 
while making it marketable"

My goal is to write music that is accessible to the average music enthusiast. I don’t want to alienate audiences with the avant-garde, and I don’t want to dummy down the music either, so I want to be true to the art form while making it marketable and presentable. Consumable is the word I guess, because we live in a consumerist world. It’s not just art now, it’s a product. But you don’t want to lose sight of the art form either. How you bridge the two together is the ultimate question.

Geraldine: So you’re working at St Catherine and then what happened?
Adam: I started a concert series at St Catherine, a program called Sienna Arts. The intent was to have a concert series at the church that celebrates concert music of all faiths and traditions. It was a great experience where I started to be involved with arts administration, grant writing, coming up with programming ideas and booking artists and working with contracts and rentals and that kind of things. Investigating, doing things on my own, and learning from trying things was the best way for me to discover how to be an arts administrator.

While I was doing that I was recording my first album. I applied for a grant through the Kalamazoo Arts Council, the Gilmore Emerging Artist Grant, and I got that grant to record three of my compositions and that was released as my first commercial album.

"You have to be an entrepreneur"
So really, I think what it means to be a composer these days is you own your own business, you have to be an entrepreneur. You’re not just confined to writing in your studio, you’re managing projects; you’re coming up with ideas on how to collaborate with people, looking at different ways to integrate all aspects of arts. It’s more of you being connected with the performers, the founders, and the people making the project happen.  It’s more than “I write a piece and that’s it.” You’re more directly involved with the process of creation to presentation, it becomes a group effort. That’s what the most rewarding for me—to be part of a project where everybody come together to create something new and exciting.

Geraldine: You’re saying that in some ways being a composer in our days is like being an arts administrator of your own work. Is that how you ended up working at Chamber Music America?
Adam: Absolutely. I don’t want to label myself, but I sort of am a chamber music composer, that’s what I write. What better way to get to know the field and the musicians I write for than to work for a national service organization for the ensemble music profession, and learn the business side of chamber music.

"Nobody tells you how to 
make things happen"

They don’t teach that in school—they only give you the tools to create your art. You get training in theory and composition, musicianship, etc. Nobody tells you how to make things happen, you have to figure it out yourself and the way to find opportunities for me to be a composer is to be an administrator in the arts.

That’s how projects happen: you get to see what other people are doing; you get to be involved with the administration side of the arts, and see how projects are created and seen through. I felt it was a natural segue for me to be in the position where I am now at CMA, where I am helping other musicians finding the resources that they need to make their visions come true.

Geraldine: What is your job at CMA?
Adam: I’m the membership manager, which means that my primary role is to retain and acquire members for this national organization. Since it is a membership and a service organization, I try to sell membership, because it’s the membership that helps support a lot of our programs, and as a member you get benefits in return.

Geraldine: It’s helping people help themselves.
Adam: Exactly!



How to make good use of your bad mood

When we're sad or in a bad mood we tend to stay away from doing anything constructive because we always think that we won't be able to concentrate and focus.

Turns out that actually, we would be better off doing something, anything, because we would be more careful with details.

Scientific American Mind cites a study by Joseph Forgas of University of New South Wales that finds that "grumpy people paid closer attention to details, showed less gullibility, were less prone to error of judgment and formed higher-quality, persuasive arguments than their happy counterparts."

So next time you think that you should cancel or not show up at that rehearsal, or not practice, or not learn your lines, know that you will actually be doing better work because of your bad mood, not despite it.



Musicians lose instruments in Nashville flooding

Nashville is known for being home to many musicians, which in the case of the recent flooding, means that it is now home to many musicians with no instruments to play on.

The associated Press explores what has been happening in Tennessee further in this article. What strikes me the most is that the musicians interviewed, which include Brad Paisley and Scott Scovill, seem to take it with a sense of humor and to remind themselves that instruments and gear are replaceable when homes are not.

The article quotes Paisley saying: 
"I sent a tweet the other day that basically told people that when they come to the show just know that what you're seeing has been fully tested under water. You're talking about total cred. This is the H2O Tour. This isn't posers acting like we know about it. We've done it, buddy."

Let's hope for the best for anyone dealing the flooding down there.



The best advice I was ever given

When I was 15, my mom decided that I should start teaching piano. I, on the contrary, was not so sure: did I really know enough to teach? And did I really want to give up free time?!

When I finally turned 18 I was still living at home because that's just part of the culture in France to stay at your parents until you move to another town. So by the time I was 19, I really wanted a summer job where I could live away from home and get some more independence.

I applied for this job at a youth hostel in Lyon, and got offered the job, which was so exciting! I was to be mainly in charge of breakfast for the guests, and I would be done early every day, while being paid and having a free place to stay. I was so proud about getting my first real job and I told my mom as soon as I could! She only had one thing to say:

"If you want to make a living in the arts then you have to work in the arts, not in some other job."

At the time that got me pretty upset because that meant that I wasn't gonna live away for the summer. 

When the fall came, I was offered a part time job as a piano teacher in a music school quite far from where I lived, which if I was to accept it, would force me to work long hours and spend a night by the school, which didn't seem like much fun. Of course, my mom was taking care of me and I didn't need the money, so I didn't really see the point in doing it. My mom, of course, had something else to say:

"If you want to make a living in the arts, you take the job in the arts if it's offered to you."

And you guessed it, I was pretty upset about that one too.
Many years later though, I am so grateful for her advice because it forced me to know what my priority was and how to not stray away from it for any reason that seemed good at the time. It forced me to deal with my fears of not being good enough for any given gig, it forced me to realize that the job of a musician comes in many different sizes, shapes and pay rates. 

Thanks to her, I started building a strong resume at a young age, which served me well in many opportunities. Because of her, I realized that working a job different than the one I wanted to do would just take me further from my goals rather than closer.

What she didn't tell me was to restrain myself in anything I do in my field: I could play for choirs, for instrumentalists, play solo, play in the street, record, sing, anything really, as long as it was in my field. 

I always think of my mom's advice when I hear of people graduating with a degree in music who decide to work a "real" job for the summer or for the following year. There will always be a job out there that will pay better and there will always be a job out there that is more secured than working in the arts.
But if you make it your choice to not look at other option than to work in the arts and pay your bills, that will be the best motivation you will ever get, and you will soon be adding up gigs (of different sizes and shapes) and make a living out of it. 



How to teach music without saying a word

For anyone who ever wished music was an easy thing to teach!



How to make the most of a bad rehearsal

When we rehearse with other people, it is the rare occasion when things fall in place perfectly, just the way each person intended them to be. More often, we know that things can be better and hopefully we can even figure out why it's not going well. If we've been under stress, tired and overwhelmed, it can become an easy thing to focus on all the things that are not working in rehearsal. As much as I hate to say it, I've been there more often than I'd like to admit. Everything would be better if the other person had worked as hard as you, had better insights, was more creative, artistic, if the instrument was a better instrument, if the set was finished, if, if, if...

In the Harvard Business Review blog, Dr. Goldsmith talks about the best advice he had ever been given. It came to him from his PhD advisor Dr. Case, after Dr. Goldsmith had become really angry and frustrated at the way things worked at his place of work, which happened to be City Hall. Dr. Case's life changing advice as expressed by Goldsmith was:

"Real leaders are not people who can point out what's wrong. Almost anyone can do that. Real leaders are people who can make things better."

So next time we are stressed, tired and overwhelmed and that we have rehearsal, let's remember to take positive steps towards making the play or the sonata better!



Get more people to come to your degree recital

Everyone knows that people will come to your recital if not for the music, for sure because of the food at the reception after the recital. Right?

In the book Sway, authors Ori and Rom Brafman cite the following studies:
  • In 1993, the Swiss government needed to find a town where to leave potential nuclear waste. Two towns were being considered. Researchers talked to a group of the community and asked them if they would accept the nuclear waste to be in their town. Of course, people weren't fan of the idea, but because they felt it was the right thing to do, 50.8 percent of people agreed to it. Then, the researchers asked another group of the community if they would accept if they were to be paid $2,175 per year and per person. That time, only 24.6 percent of people agreed, even after the money got increased to $4,350! 
  • For another study, researchers asked a group of students to take a fake version of the GMAT and to do the best they could. Parallel to this, researchers asked another group of students to take the same fake test, and told the students that they would be paid 2.5 cents for every right answer. It turned out that the students being paid didn't even answer all the questions, while the other students did because they wanted to help out the researchers!
What the researchers realized is that people approach a situation in two complete different ways: either from a genuine point of view, or from a self-interest point of view. If you offer someone an incentive, it diminishes the genuine motivation of people.

So if you ask people to come to your recital and imply that they should because of the reception, you actually change their thinking from: "I really like this person and I want to support them and be there for them" to "is it worth it for me to loose two hours of my time to only get some free food in the end?"

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