Why musicians love figure skating

Are you a musician and do you love figure skating? Here is why you do and if you don't, why you should!

  • Quiz yourself: Who wrote the piece? Is it in the original key or different? How far from the original version is the arrangement? If it's from a song, can you recall the words? This year alone I recognized Stravinsky, Bizet's Carmen (with the words!), Loreena McKennit, the music from the film Amelie, etc.
  • Imagine... a world where movement and music do not necessarily connect: or exactly what makes a figure skater end one beat too soon or too late of the last striking chord.
  • Wonder how anyone can spend a year practicing on the same (usually dramatic) music, and if that drives them crazy like it would drive you crazy.
  • Learn who is the person behind those arrangements, the transitions from one tune to the next, and what their title is (how much do they get paid, and can you do it too?). What software do they use to cut and paste the music?
That's what I do when I look at figure skating, but what do you think about?

Photo from:


How to read music, literally

 I've had glasses to see far away for many years, but I have great up close vision. Which means that I shouldn't need my glasses to read music. But for some reason I've been debating ever since on what I like best, particularly for performances. I realized last year that it all depends on a few important things.

  • How clear the score is: Is it all one color or are there some streaks through? Do the notes get smaller or go up on the side of the page? How many parts are you reading at once (as an accompanist I sometimes have to go back and forth between an upper instrumental part, the singer's part and the piano part)? 
  • Lighting:  This depends on the lighting of the room and the position of your score, for example a light right behind you can reflect too much on the score and create some blind spots, a light on the side can create shadows on the score, etc. The weather plays an important part if you are performing in a room with windows, and you don't always know what a role it will play until the actual performance. That's why I have been keeping my glasses on the piano, in case I need them at the last minute.
  • Who you play with: If I play a recital with one singer, chances are I can get the breaths and any other important information even without my glasses, but when I music direct and that I take my cues from actions on the stage I definitely wear my glasses.
Now, I finally had come to a good performing situation with my glasses, but I am now on my second week of trying contact lenses and I am back to figuring out what works best for me. It turns out that I don't see as good close when I wear my contacts and that I can't handle certain lights as good as I can with the glasses, but it could be a great option for shows when I need to see both near and far. So, the search for the perfect solution is still on!

What is your solution for glasses or contacts and performance? Do you always do the same thing or does it depend?

Photo from http://www.istockphoto.com/file_thumbview_approve/4803098/2/istockphoto_4803098-perfect-vision.jpg


Gay Theatre

Today's New York Times had a great article on the new Gay Theatre  in New York. It inspired me to find some samples of what's coming up, and here are some of them.

Music from "Yank!"

Interviews and preview of "The Pride:"

Interviews from the cast of "Next Fall:"

And a really fun preview from "The Big Gay Musical" to finish:

I am so excited about new works coming to Broadway instead of all the revivals from last year. I would love to hear what you guys are looking forward to see!


Evolving inspiration

My last doctoral recital is coming up a week from Friday (March 5th, 6:30, Concert Hall of BU CFA). My original inspiration for the songs were the following images:

 Here is what it evolved to!

  I have been working on this recital with the following amazing people:
I can't wait to see what the final product will look like! 


Practice makes perfect but does it pay your rent?

The daily life of a professional musician is learning the necessity to be good without practicing. Not that you don't need to practice, but that you spend so much time at gigs and in rehearsals that it lives rarely enough time to practice.

When you are a professional you need to prepare rather than practice. Before playing new songs, figure out what you need for each particular song and then get ready for it accordingly; if there are tricky runs mark in fingerings, if it's a tricky rhythm mark the beats clearly, and if the harmonies are more unexpected, then actually play through the song, etc. The most important is to anticipate what mistakes you would make more than playing the piece again and again.

Professional musicians need to accept the difference between practice and preparation.  Preparing means that many times you will be ready enough to do a good job, but that it won't always be the best that you could have done if you had had time to practice. At the end of the day the options are either practice to perfection and don't make a living out of your perfect pieces, or prepare efficiently and play a bit under your ability but go from gig to gig.


Picture from http://rentmyskihome.com/?page_id=1209


How to plan warm ups for rehearsal

When I first get through a music theatre score, I write down on a separate piece of paper which spots are tricky, so that I can include them in the warm ups.

I use the warm up no only to warm the cast's voices, but also to warm their ears up to the music style of the show.

Here is the warm up I did with the young cast of Seussical today. I bring the highest note of each warm up higher and higher for each exercise. I end the first one around F#, and the last one around B.
  • on an "n" sound, 123454321. The n sound helps open up their soft palate while being gentle on their vocal chords.

  • "How are you" is sung on 54321, with them locking eyes with something different each time, with a big smile.

  • "I am good thank you I am having a good day" is sung on the same repeated note, with a rhythm of four sixteenths, triplet, sixteenth.

  • "You think, you think, you think" is sung on C-E, C-Eb, C-E, to practice the blue note. I'll up that one to a fifth tomorrow, and a sixth the following day, as in C-G, C-Gb, C-G, and C-A, C-Ab, C-A.

  • "Goodbye goodbye" on 717171. They actually did really good on that one, so we might only keep it there for a few more rehearsals before taking it off.

  • "I love to sing", on 18351, with them jumping on the word "love." Casts of any age and experience love that one, and it gives them energy before rehearsing, while helping them stay loose on the higher notes.
These are just a few ways of how I get ready for rehearsal, and I would love to hear what you guys do to get ready, or what kind of warm up you like when you're part of a cast.

Picture from http://www.danacentre.org.uk/events/2007/07/03/303


Two solutions for Valentine's day problems

There are two problems that we, musicians, face every year for Valentine's Day.
  1. You're in a couple: tough one. You will have to say no to all those romantic high paying gigs. No restaurant, bar or lounge playing, no private performance, no private background music, nothing. No money but lots of love.

    Solution: Serenade your sweetheart as your Valentine's gift to them.
  2.  You're single: You will have to play for all those lovey-dovey couples that will make you feel sorry you're single, even if you're really happy to be single. You will see them give each other gifts, and you won't get any. But you will make lots of money.

    Solution:  Make music your sweetheart that night.
Happy Valentine's day!



How to create hit after hit

I found this video of  Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of "Eat, Pray and Love," where she explains how hard it is to live as an artist and why it doesn't have to be. Genius!


Why you should avoid graduating if you're a musician

You think that you want to graduate but really, think about it, is that the wisest option for a musician?
Since I filled in my graduation papers I have been subject to all the following:
  • Cutting the cord syndrome: How will I ever know how to play the piano without my teacher telling me?
  • Panic Attacks: what if I don't get people to hire me? What if I'm too classical for the music theatre world, and too music theatre for the classical world?! 
  • Self doubts: if I somehow get people to hire me, what will happen if they realize that I can't play the piano, that I don't know a thing about music and that I'm a terrible person who can't collaborate and work as a team player?! 
  • Paranoid thoughts: What if all the musicians I have ever worked with decide to tell all of my potential employer that they shouldn't, under any circumstance, hire me? 
  • Negative thinking: How on earth will I survive as a homeless person with a visa expiring in a year not knowing how to do a thing other than music?! 

Conclusion, in order to avoid those unwanted feelings, follow this course of action: 
  1. -Stop practicing 
  2. Get bad grades 
  3. Do not fulfill your requirements 
  4. Do not apply for gigs 
  5. Live in denial 
  6. Do not fill graduation papers 
  7. Emergency option: apply for another degree.


Special effects Trumpeting

Spencer's lecture recital happened last night. We played Hollow Box by John Morrison that we had played at Longy last week, along with the variations on the "carnival de venise" by Arban, and Invocation by Sudberg, where I had to sing as well as play.

Spencer talked about fun contemporary trumpet techniques, like singing and playing the trumpet at once, and playing with pieces like if they were theatre scenes, with blockings marked on the score (check out a piece called Fanfare, it's pretty fun). Spencer's teacher Terry Everson seemed to be really happy with the recital, which is always nice to hear when you're part of a recital.

After the recital, somebody me came up to me, and it turned out to be Vartan, a wonderfully nice guy and great composer that I had met two years ago when I played some of his pieces at a concert. It was so nice to see him again!


Clarinet recital

Before getting to see the fun balloons at the reception, my friend Pat Locklin and I actually played his last master's recital. We played the Debussy "Premiere Rhapsodie," the "Cantilene" by Cahuzac, "Patterns in Blue" by Sargon and a Rossini piece before he played on his own and then the Bartok "Contrasts" with his chamber music trio. Congrats Pat! (On a side note, Pat's teacher Ethan Sloane told me at the end of the concert that one of his best friend's John Morrison, the composer who wrote the piece I performed on Wednesday, was saying hi, which was really unexpected and fun!)

Little Night Music

My friend David Gram and I did Babar the Little Elephant together, and I music directed the few tunes in The Good Person of Szechuan that he directed, and I've seen him in shows he acted in and shows he directed.
He always finds ways to put twists on his shows, like changing the role of set pieces, and his shows are always both deep and entertaining. So I was really excited to go to the opening of A Little Night Music last night, that he directed for Boston Opera Collaborative.
The set was beautiful, particularly the entirely painted stage floor that looked like paper wall, and see-through pieces of fabric that he used to separate events in time (for "Remember")and space (when couples indulge in the bedroom while another character talks in the sitting room for example).
The other great part of the show was Kristina Riegle who played Desiree Armfeldt. She had it all: the acting, the beauty, the singing, the timing, you name it she had it.
I also got the surprise of seeing my friend Jennifer Rizzo who, I didn't know, was playing Fredericka Armfeldt. We had done La Voix Humaine by Poulenc together, and had had such a fun time doing it that it was really fun to hear her and see her again.
So all in all a great show, that ended with yummy chocolates and sweets from the opening reception.


H&M, Lily Allen and the real deal

I went for an afternoon stroll in H&M this afternoon when I heard a really cool song, which sounded particularly good after what they had been playing before that one. I got to the check out and told the clerk how great a song it was and asked her if it was a cd. She looked at me weird and told me that it was Lily Allen's cd.

Lily Allen. Of course. I saw her on the red carpet of the Grammys. And before that on some other places. Her music? I stopped listening to the radio when I gave up my car, because somehow I can get all the hard stuff you can get on an ipod touch except for wireless radio, which used to be on any stupid walkman (two steps forward, one step behind, if you ask me).

So I'm not up to date, but I used to be, so I have the power to turn things around. Except that maybe that Lily Allen's song was her most famous one and I made a fool out of myself at H&M. I had to do some serious research on youtube. I did known the song Smile without knowing who was singing it. I listened to pretty much all of Lily Allen's songs on youtube, and enjoyed how brilliant her videos were, but I wasn't able to recognize the song I had heard at H&M.

My boyfriend figured that that's because all of her songs were the same, all great, but all the same. I decided that I should get her albums soon. My boyfriend thought that her songs sounded like she was talking on pitch. I thought that I could outdo the speaking on pitch thing by showing him true speaking on pitch in the French tradition, with Vincent Delerm and the first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozi.

Somehow he decided that we should watch Britney Spears Womanizer, which reminded us of both Christina Aguilera and Michael Jackson. That's how we ended up watching a bunch of Michael Jackson videos, and came to the conclusion that really, Michael Jackson is the man. If you forgot, follow our train of thought, end here and thank us.


Hollow Box

I played for a composer faculty concert at Longy School of Music tonight, with my trumpet player friend Spencer Aston. Spencer asked the composer John Morrison to write him a piece for one of his recitals coming up on Monday, before he leaves for the National Broadway tour of Porgy and Bess.

The piece was called Hollow Box and had Spencer play into the resonances of the piano, and me plucking the piano strings and pushing keys with my elbows.

Holding on one heel (the other busy with the pedal).

John Morrison and Spencer Aston


Grounded, levitation and flat (make that a double)

Beyonce!! Pink!!! Taylor Swift? Taylor Swift. When the amazing gets (literally) flattened back down.

Picture this: Beyonce. On her knees. Moving her head with her hair going crazy around her. Doing what anybody else would loose a lifetime's reputation for. She means it. She keeps her dignity. Wow.

Pink on the other hand was nowhere near the ground when she got lifted off the ground on a piece of white fabric suspended from the ceiling that lifted her up in the air. There she was, high up, floating in the air, head upside down, horizontal to the ground, and whatever other position she took, while singing beautifully. Breathtaking.

After such a strong start, I started to have expectations, which included a few other unbelievable performances, maybe towards the end, with a few nice and solid performances in the middle.
I didn't quite stay awake for the end after waiting for it for over three hours, but I was awake for the middle. When Taylor Swift came in.

I don't know much about Taylor Swift but the world loves her, so that gave me expectations, if for nothing exceptional at least of some basics. Oh was I wrong! She couldn't hold her pitch and didn't seem to know her voice much at all (does she even like to sing?).

Other people lip-synced earlier, showing some musical sense: I can't sing therefore I lip-synced. Taylor Swift missed that memo. Something else came down flat after her performance. Myself. Making fun of people that are way more recognized than me and that get what I want (of course I want a Grammy too, who wouldn't?!). I can't make fun of Taylor Swift, whether she sings flat or not. Only Beyonce and Pink can.
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