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.

  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. 
  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?
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