How to make it as a composer

Composer Annie Gosfield realized that she had made it as a composer when she was asked if she had any advice for young composers. And then she thought about it and turned her ideas into an article in the New York Times, as part of The Score (where composers talk about their works and the issues involved in creating music nowadways).

Some of the advice she gives are mainstream knowledge:
  • take your work seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously
  • don't fear rejection
  • details count
Some tend to be forgotten or not always emphasized:
  • never discount the power of the library
  • allow yourself to be led down the garden path
  • don't assume you know what's accessible to the audience and what isn't
Some can be transferable to playwrights:
  • Make sure you you're always doing some work that is yours and yours alone- not for the approval of teachers or colleagues
Check out the article here. Which advice do you agree or disagree with?

Interview with composer and Chamber Music America Membership Manager to come!



How to practice dealing with stage fright

There is nothing more annoying as a performer than being super ready for a performance and get so nervous at the performance itself that we either get too much in our heads and miss the experience, or worst we actually screw it up.

If that happens once, then just thinking of the next performance gets even scarier.
So what to do? Can we practice being nervous to learn how to deal with it?

The first idea we get of course is to get some people to watch us perform, but that can sometimes backfire because if it goes too well with them, we may take it for granted and be even less ready to handle nervousness when we perform for real.

So then what?

Well, what happens when we get nervous is that our heart rate goes faster and that we can't think as clearly. So it's best to recreate that when we practice performing. And the best way to get our heart rate to go faster and our minds to not think clearly is to... run!

Yes, literally run around your block, or go up and down a few flights of stair and then give your performance.
Now, this fake nervous feeling we get with running doesn't last as long as the performance will , so we've got to run again every so often, but besides that it's a pretty good technique.

Have you ever tried practicing being nervous? What are your solutions for handling stage fright?



It's Broadway Week people!

Broadway week starts today on Live with Regis and Kelly!

They'll have guests and they'll do special features on a bunch of new Broadway shows, including American Idiot, Promises Promises and Come Fly Away.

If you're living the life of a professional artist, you might not be available to watch Regis and Kelly, but do not despair! They have all the videos of the previous years here, and they're awesome!

Happy Broadway week everyone!



Who says you can't wear nail polish?

The weather is so beautiful outside, which makes for a perfect Saturday, and for light(er) topics.
Namely: Nails.

For so long I took for granted that as a musician I would never be able to wear nail polish. Not that anyone told me that I couldn't,  but no musician I knew ever had nail polish on, so I figured it was a no-no.

Well, it turns out it's OK. Yes! It's O. K!

I've now been coloring my nails for ten years, and the only downside of wearing nail polish as a musician is that my priority has to be about keeping my nails short, which chips the nail polish. Oh well, chipped nail polish, who cares?!

 My playing has improved the same, and my painted nails have made no difference to the world of music whatsoever. And I think that my piano loves it (and no, no color goes on it)!

So women instrumentalists, there you go!

You get to do whatever you want with your nails, like all the non-musicians out there!

Extra tip (from my grand-father):
To avoid cuticles, never cut your nails on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I don't know why, but it does work.



How to push through in a performance

David Blaine is definitely one amazing performer!
What makes his success? Brilliant ideas, intense preparation and pushing through the pain of the performance (literally in his case). Sounds to me like skills that we need in music and theater too!

How do you push through in a performance?



3 performing struggles

I came home yesterday and found that my boyfriend had been reading the wonderful book The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser, which was given to me years ago by the wonderful department of music of Kalamazoo College. I read through the book again and came across the part where the author explains the different types of struggles that performers can go through. Here they are.
  1.  Overstated Passion: That's when we over do it, when we want to prove how great we are and how inspired we are. We turn any subtlety into cheesy stuff. We just have to remember that we are the link that allows a silent sheet of music to turn into sound, and that it's about the art, not us.
  2. Avoidance: Bruser writes: "Sometimes we try to play it cool. We say to ourselves, "Hey, it's no big deal. Just lie back and play the notes." And that's about all that comes out. Notes." That's when we turn into robots, and become a machine of technique. We don't even like it ourselves, so why would anyone else?!
  3. Aggression: That's when we want to do well so much that we tense up just at the idea of playing and taking the risk to make a mistake, and that's just what happens. We tense up, get scared of making a mistake and make a mistake. Then we decide that we really know what we are doing and that we are really going to play with no mistake, so we tense up and get scared about making mistakes, and.... It's a vicious circle. The interesting thing is that after that happened a few times we do the exact opposite, which is to focus on breathing and being relaxed, and that still takes us away from the performance.
Awareness of who we are is truly what is needed in order to be a good performer, so that we can catch ourselves when we are struggling in any of the ways described above.



How to sell the most expensive tickets

I subscribe to the best mailing list ever concerning all things theater, called You've Cott Mail (the name of the writer is Cott), and that's where I saw the link to this wonderful article on 2 am theatre.

Dennis Baker offers this ground breaking idea on how a theatre can make the most money and sell the most tickets, and no it is not by offering many discounts at the end of a run. 

Baker's idea is to offer the best discounts to people who buy tickets much in advance, and to make tickets more expensive for people who buy at the door and for people who come at the end of the run.

Click here to read how that would work and why it's a great idea for everyone.

Do you think it would work or do you think that it's a terrible idea?



Review of the tour of Cats

I always wonder how people on tour can possibly play the same show over and over and over again without ever looking like they're bored with it.

That is, until I saw the tour of Cats last week at the Colonial Theater in Boston.
Besides the fact that I found the production itself to be quite dated with too traditional dances, set and lighting design, the cast just didn't help. It wasn't bad per se, but it wasn't exactly tight. The voices were overall inconsistent, with some good moments followed by less good moments. It seemed that people were going through the motions of the show. I read the bios during intermissions and many members of the cast were on their second or third year with the show, which might be an explanation.

I really wanted to like it, but I really didn't.


8 tips to be a successful performer

In a lecture I watched on Ted.com, speaker Richard St. John explains what it takes to become successful and why people experience failure once they're successful. Here are the eight things he lists that people need to do in order to become successful, and that once people have achieved they stop doing. Let's see how they relate to performing, and which one we really need to remember.
    1. Passion: this is is pretty much a given in the arts, otherwise we would probably have chosen a simpler lifestyle!
    2. Work: I don't know any musicians or actor that doesn't overwork. We got this one covered too.
    3. Focus: This one can be tricky at times because we tend to overwork, making ourselves tired and less focused. Work is quantity and focus is quality. We have to make sure that they go hand in hand, and that one doesn't take over the other.  
    4. Push: I think that we do that after every bad lesson, every bad rehearsal and every bad performance we have. We do it every time we doubt ourselves and wonder if we'll ever be good enough.
    5. Ideas: We often practice for technique, but for success we always want to have our own ideas on how to be musical, how to be theatrical. This one is our art itself, and our how we express ourselves through it.
    6. Improve: I think this one is a combination of all of the previous. It's maturing as an artist and a performer and learning how to balance all aspects of our jobs.
    7. Serve: That's the one that I think we need to remember the most. We need to remember that everything we do is to please our audience. It's hard to remember that when you're playing in an orchestra, singing in a chorus, playing a piece you don't like, playing on a poor instrument; all of this that happen frequently to professional performers. But this one is key. We have to serve our audience, serve the conductor, serve the music. Not ourselves.
    8. Persist: No need of an explanation here. Just good luck!
    What are your tips for success?



    The REAL job of an actor

    Actor Monica Flanagan and I had a discussion about how different it is to be auditioning as an actor v. being the person making the calls. No kidding right? But the reason why that's important to remember is that actors for sure will learn valuable and practical things about their job after spending time on the other side. Now, you can do that by being an intern in a casting agency, working as a stage manager or maybe an assistant manager, etc, but not everyone can find the opportunities to do that, or has the time and energy to do so. And that's what I'm here. To tell you what Monica learned from being on the other side. Here it is.

    You are judged by your physique. Sure, you knew that, but it's even more than being a type. It's about the angles of your face, about the energy that gets through your headshot, about the actual color hair you have (no wig on tv), and definitely your weight (tv will make you look fatter for sure). It's about being cool and in style, and understanding how the clothes you wear can be in style and match the character you're auditioning for all at once, while standing out (it seems obvious, but in practice it's almost contradictory).

    So, Monica's conclusion is that if average actors get parts because they look the parts, and that good actors don't always get the part because they don't quite look the part, her job as an actor is not only to act great but as importantly, to:
    • Be in style: as in this month's style, not last month's. Make sure to wear clothes that fit your body, no matter how much not-average your body is (I'm short and I have to sew each pair of pants I ever buy).
    • Be in shape: not only for tv,  but also for tours and Broadway. Even if you know that you're overall fine and that you could get hired for a job that requires you to get even more fit, do it before they give the gig to somebody who already has the abs. 
    • Take care of yourself: clean, legs or face shaved, make up on, etc.
      Let's face it, we would all love for our art to be the only thing we have to be responsible for, but if the only to get to do that is to put up with some other more annoying things, well it's up to us to make that call.



      Do musicians really matter?

      Do musicians really matter?
      I sure think so!

      Why wouldn't anyone think not? I don't know, but I go to so many shows that don't include the names of the musicians in the program (not even to mention a bio or a photo)  that it seems like a lot of people forget it.

      Well we do people!! We do!!!

                                           Beyonce knows it too!


      Adding Maching: A Musical

       I decided to go see Adding Machine: A Musical produced by SpeakEasy at the last minute tonight, not having heard a thing of it. A gamble that paid off. I had a great time, and am glad I got to see it.
      This musical is an adaptation of the play The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice. It tells the story of a man who, expecting to get a promotion after working for his company for 25 years, gets fired because his position is being replaced by the adding machine. 

      My favorite aspect of the show was the cast. Everything single actor was completely committed, precise and embodying their character perfectly. They all made a great homogeneous ensemble. The lead role, Brendan McNab, had a very strong performance throughout with some particularly intensely draining emotional passages that he executed brilliantly.

      My second favorite part of the show was the set. It had a gap in the middle of it, whose function changed throughout the play. It started out as the work place, turned into the courthouse, switched to the jail, and ended as the pathway from death to life. The bareness of the rest of the set worked really well, and became even more powerful when the walls of the theatre with all the technical aspects of it became visible.

      The musical version of the story mostly works, sometimes more successfully than others. A lot of the music is quite serious, while at other times it becomes almost too cheerful for the circumstances. The going back and forth between those two styles makes the whole somewhat unfocused musically. One of the best musical moments is The Gospel according to Shrdlu, followed by I'd Rather Watch You sang by Daisy. Those are the two most singable tunes of the show, which otherwise emphasizes strongly on rhythm over melody and harmonies. The piano part is particularly dry and repetitive, and could use more diverse textures, particularly in productions using drums, as did this one. And on a side note, the synthesizer was more distracting than useful.

      I don't know where this show is at, if it is still transforming or if it is set in stone, but if you ever get a chance to see it, make sure to take it!



      If it weren't for architects, would you love music?

      At first I wasn't so sure about watching this talk by architect Liz Diller on Ted.com, but once I got into it it was so worth it! It reminded me that there are other types of art other than music, theatre and visual arts, and that architects are also amazing people that also work in our best interest.
      Have fun watching the entire thing, or jump to 13:45!


      Broadway's Next Big Star

      BroadwaySpace.com is doing this "Broadway's Next Big Star" contest, and the final 15 have been chosen.

      I had a lot of fun going through each video (not staying on all of them, but you know...). It's quite hard to pick one when they're all so different, and they are castable in different shows.

      Oh, and you get to vote too, so it's fun!



      How to prove you're qualified

      You finally got that audition, so you've got to prove that you're the most qualified, right?

      Well, what if the hiring staff already knew how qualified you were, and that the only thing they called you in for was to see if they could get along with you, to see if the way you normally are matches theirs, to see just what a cool, nice and fun human being you are?

      Wouldn't that make you feel way less nervous, therefore so much cooler, nicer, funner? And wouldn't you seem even more qualified then?



      Two tips on how to handle taxes as an artist

      It's this time of the year again when taxes are due, which means that most people get money back, but for artists you consider yourself lucky if you don't have to pay anything. Here are the two most important things you need to do year round to avoid taxes freak out: use a credit card for all your job related expenses, and put 20% of each paycheck on a separate account.

      1.  Use a credit card for all your job related expenses: no, it's not about building your credit or spending money you don't have. It's about easily creating a file of all the things that you can write off at taxes time. You're buying scores? It goes on the credit card. What had to repair your instrument? You'll get that counted off later. What about that fun video camera you used to tape on of your concerts? You bet, it counts too! A year is a long time, but if you use one specific credit card all year round for only your job related expenses, you'll just have to check it out come taxes and write it off. And of course, make sure you don't use that credit card for any other expense. So easy!
      2.  Put 20% of each paycheck away: create a savings account or a checking account separate from your regular accounts, and put on it 20% of what you earn as soon as you get a paycheck (that didn't already take back taxes). Come taxes time, even with all the 1099, you'll already have a good idea of how much you'll need to pay, and you'll be able to pay it right away with no sweat and tears. Otherwise, if you try to save your money in your regular bank account, you'll soon forget how much money you're supposed to have aside, or you'll be tempted to use it, etc. 

      Easy steps towards tax control!
      Share your own tips in the comment section.

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