Happy New Year

When it comes to music, Christmas is for classical and traditional songs, while New Year is for pop golden oldie.
For a fun look at the past, here are some happy new year videos!


IN SPANISH (at the 52 second mark)

IN FRENCH from the Island of the Reunion




Do you have fun with your instrument?

I had a piano at home my whole life until I moved to the States. I used to play it all the time, often just for fun.

When I moved to the US, I discovered practice rooms. While I was glad I had a piano to practice on, the amount of time I spent just having fun on the piano went way low. At the end of a long day, staying extra hours at school just to sing or write songs just seemed like they would take me away from much needed time at home.

A few years later I got a tiny keyboard, which had only three octaves, and no pedal. Even if it was far from ideal, after not having written any songs for years, I ended up writing quite a few during the time I had it. I also learned a lot of new songs just sight-reading away.

Unfortunately I had to get rid of it when I moved to Boston, and spent another three years with no instrument at home. While I was practicing hard at school, and getting more and more professional on my instrument, at that point I had close to no fun with it. Piano had become my job, and the few times where I got to play it for no purpose other than itself, I missed the fun I used to have daily with it.

I talked about that often with my husband, who realized a few weeks ago that his brother had a full size awesome keyboard at his parents home, and that he wasn't playing it since he had gone away to college. So we asked him if we could borrow it for a few months, and drove it back from Christmas break. My husband built it up last night, and I could not be happier!

I played it right away last night, and as soon as I woke up this morning and saw it, I couldn't wait to play it! It's just like a new love, I'm giddy just thinking about it!

I now feel as if I play two different instruments: one in practice rooms for my professional life, and one at home as a fun hobby.

How lucky am I?!



How to fund your recording project

New Year resolutions are coming up, and one of your goals this year might be to record your own cd. The recording part of the project is the easy part, it's getting to the recording studio that is tougher, because of how the high recording costs.

Here are some of the ways to get your project funded:
  • Grants: here is the most comprehensive list of all types of grants, compiled and collected by Michigan State Universities Library. It's an amazing one-stop-shop! 
Each state offers their own grant, so it's best you do a search for your own state's to find the best resource; here is the best source of grants in Massachusetts.

Grants are given for different projects and for different populations (students, singers, string players, young professionals, etc.). They are various application requirements, from sending a resume, to writing a paper, to submitting an explanation of your project. Most people are not aware of most grants, which means that many of them are quite easy to get if you apply.
  • Raise money: There are many different ways to ask for money. Here is a good article on how to do it, with good suggestions on how to motivate people to give, such as offering perks or offering tax receipts.
Many sites nowadays are helping you raise money, such as artistshare.com, feedmuse.com. See how my friend Amy Yassinger is using kickstarter.com for her project.

Good luck!



How Kristin Chenoweth and the Rockettes made my holiday inspiring

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, or whichever celebration you participated in!

I got spoiled with wonderful gifts, including the fantastic autobiography of Kristin Chenoweth, called A Little Bit Wicked.
I loved the book so much, I read it in two days. It's well written, funny, informative, good-hearted and genuine. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Broadway, theatre, singing, tv, acting, and of course Kristin Chenoweth.

Just in case you already have years of reading to catch up on, here is her advice  for young actors, taken straight from her book.
  1. "It's been said a thousand times, and it's true: if there's anything else you could be happy doing, you should do it. 
  2. Run with the big dogs or stay on the porch with the puppies, but let your ambition be about who you want to be, not what you want to get.
  3. Awards are on the outside. Rewards are on the inside. That means rewards don't have to be dusted. 
  4. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 
  5. Never, never forget the fun factor." 

Besides reading this book, I also got the chance to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular this morning (it was an unlisted 9am performance, and I am curious how that worked with the union).

I expected a lot of legs, and some Christmas music, but I got so much more than that:
  • a 3D video where I felt like I was flying in the sky with Santa.
  • not one, not two, but three camels (CAMELS!) nonchalantly walking by on stage.
  • some aerial actions (which did bring to mind the recent Spiderman fall, and  made me wonder if any actor on Broadway doing aerial stuff is also thinking about it every time they do it).
  • an ice rink 
  • a cool number of the Rockettes dressed in military uniforms creating interesting visual effects (which made my military husband say that the Rockettes would be really good at marching, and made me wonder if the military would be good at being Rockettes)!
This was the kind of show that reminded me why I do what I do, and made me proud of being a part of the theatre world.

Last on my list of things that made me happy this Christmas is that my blog is now published for easy read on your mobile phone!

You've got nothing to do but type the web address on your phone and voila! Make sure to try it out!

Now, back to eating yummy leftovers (which include an amazing vanilla and berries Buche de Noel), and cozying it up by the fire!

I wish you just the same!


    The best 6 books on practicing

    Here are the six books most highly recommended by the College Pedagogy Committee Panel Discussion.

    1. The Inner Game of Golf: this book is written by Timothy Gallwey, and is about the psychology of learning. The freelancer can understand how to learn better by reading how to learn golfers learn better. If you want to read a preview of it, there it is. 

    2. Performing in the Zone: this book is described as giving "explanations about what really goes on inside your mind and body in performing situations." It includes a 12 week program to incorporate the techniques from the book into your life.

    3. The Inner Game of Music: this book is in collaboration with Barry Green from the series by Timothy Gallwey, and includes chapters on coping with obstacles, improving the quality of musical experience and letting go. Here is the preview for it.

    4. The Musician's Way: Not only did author Gerald Klickstein wrote a book on performing, he also shares on a regular basis his knowledge on his blog, with topics such as the creative process, injury prevention, music education, and more.

    5. The Practicing Mind: The emphasis of the book is on staying in the moment and on being disciplined and focused.

    6. The Perfect Wrong Note, Learning to Trust Your Musical Self : The preview of this book by professional pianist William Westney indicates interesting chapters such as juicy mistakes, the effect of lessons, and whether it is good or not to be a good student.

    Picture from http://www.artsjournal.com/bookdaddy/2008/07/


    What is the challenge of your show?

    The sooner you realize which specific challenge there is for the show you're in, the sooner you can make peace with it and make the best of the process.

    Here are some particular challenges to be on the lookout for:
    • Scheduling: I worked on a show for which the creative team would meet after each rehearsal and spend a whole hour figuring out the schedule for the rest of the week, but meet again at the next rehearsal to re-work the schedule for the whole week, but meet again the next day, etc. you get the picture.

      Scheduling always needs to be readjusted in a regular process, but this went on for the entire process. Because scheduling was constantly changed, there might as well not have been a schedule to start with.
    • Not enough rehearsal time: sometimes the schedule is actually so tightly set in stone, even before the choreographer and the music director are hired, that time planned for rehearsals is not adequate to the music that needs to be taught.

      This case leads to as crazy a situation as one where people have never gone through a song before tech week, or when they were only taught parts and moves once and never had the chance to rehearse it again.
    • A difficult cast member: it's amazing how one single person can impact everyone's process, whether it's a diva, a whiner, or a rehearsal back seat driver, they will bring the energy down and the mood low. 
    • No score: no words, no chords, no printed music, nothing. You get a recording and on your merry way you go, having to figure it all out for yourself what is expected of you.

      And don't think that the expectation will be lessened, they will be just the same, except it will take you much longer to get to the same result.

      And the rehearsal process will suffer from communication break-down when people want to start in a spot in the middle of the song but no one knows how to refer to it: "you know the spot where it goes lalala, and where the dancers have a turn, not the first turn, but the second turn, the full second turn, not the half one that's in between ..."
    • Poorly written vocal parts: this is a problem that happens with new works, because they're still being worked on and parts are being filled in by the day.

      Ideally this would be a collaborative process between the composers and the music director and the cast, but after so many years working on a project, original creators tend to become (understandably) possessive of their work, and do not take well outside points of views.

      Major patience, kindness and empathy are the most important qualities to maintain then. 
      • Working with overworked actors: a main problem of summer stock.Voices get tired, people get sick, emotions run high, drama ensues, when exhaustion sets in the rehearsal process becomes a mess.

        Actors can't do much about that issue except from taking care of themselves as much as possible. The best to hope then is for a schedule to be well ran, for scores to be handed in and for parts to be written well.  


        Picture from http://www.ehow.com/videos-on_3286_audition-musical.html


        Do you have an excuse or a reason?

        Performers are told all the time not to make excuses, which is a wonderful thing except for the times when people have actual reasons and don't share them because they're afraid they will be considered excuses.

        Let's look at the difference between reasons and excuses here, when you should mention something and when you should keep it to yourself.

        YOU'RE SICK 
          • FOR REHEARSAL: -DO tell the creative team if you're sick before rehearsals start, otherwise they'll wonder if they did a mistake by casting you in the first place. A lot of singers don't tell because they're afraid the creative team will think that they're not reliable, but it's an important piece of information for the creative team to know why you're not giving your whole. DO tell if it gets worse in the middle of rehearsal, and if you're getting a fever, because you might be becoming contagious and you need to go home immediately and take care of it. Everyone will appreciate you for it. DO NOT tell if you're fatigued from being sick if it makes no changes to your sound or to what you're physically able to do.  
          • FOR A LESSON: -DO tell if it impacts your sound. DO NOT tell it you think that's a reason for not coming in prepared. There's a lot of mental practicing and table work that can be done even when you're sick. 
          • FOR AN AUDITION: -DO NOT tell BEFORE you sing, because if you happen to sound great, people will think that you were just trying to cover for a potentially bad audition, and they might think that you are insecure and that you may be a pain in the butt to work with. DO tell right AFTER singing if you really didn't sound normal, and apologize by telling what it is you have. Don't say: "Sorry, I'm kind of sick," but "I hope I get another chance to sing for you again because I have a terrible cold which is impacting my sound negatively." If you didn't say it at the audition, DO NOT email the casting director about it, you missed your chance.         

            • FOR REHEARSAL: Unless something major happened such as you had to take your child to the doctor, or your car broke down, or something tangible like this, no excuse will ever be good enough. Because most likely the reason you didn't practice was not because of a lack of time but because of a lack of organization. You could have practiced at some point but you thought you could practice later, and then something came up, and here you are, not prepared. Practice when you can.
            • FOR A LESSON: There's no really good reason for not being ready for a lesson because you have a whole week to get ready for it. It's even worse if you try to fool your teacher saying that you practiced when you didn't, so the best is to tell right when you walk into the lesson that you're not ready and that you're sorry (and you better be sorry because you're wasting your teacher's time and you're throwing your tuition money away). 
            • FOR AN AUDITION: No excuse or reason will ever be good enough for you to go to an audition not prepared. If it's a call back and you do have a good reason for not being prepared, then call ahead and cancel your appointment. If you have a relationship with the creative team, you may email beforehand and explain what your reason is for not coming to the call back, and that you don't want to waste their time by showing up unprepared. They might give you an appointment for a later date, but otherwise, know that you did the right thing and that they will respect you for that.


            Are you a show or a no-show?

            Today is a perfect, slow, comfy, snow day in Virginia. Snow is often a good reason for people to not make it to work, but as freelance artists, no matter the weather, one must show up. Two reasons for it: one, it's the way to be as a professional performer. Two, most likely if you don't show up you won't get paid.

            To stress the importance of showing up, here is an excerpt from the (excellent) book "The Making of a Chef," when journalist Michael Ruhlman gets confronted between the decision of taking the risk to drive in a snow storm, or showing up in the kitchen of the Culinary Institute of America where he is following the courses as a student, as a project for his book. The following discussion ensued between the writer and his teacher.

            "Hi, Chef, this is Michael Ruhlman. (...) It's still snowing up here. I don't think I'll be able to make it in."
            "That's up to you, " he said softly.
            "I'm sorry," I said.
            I paused. I needed him to know I wasn't blowing this off lightly. (...)
            He said: "Michael, I don't want you to take offense at this." (...) "Part of what we're training students to be here is chefs- and when chefs have to be somewhere, they get there," Pardus had said calmly and evenly, not as judgment but as facts.
            "Chefs are the people who are working on Thanksgiving and Christmas, when everyone else is partying," he said. "Or at home with their family."
            He didn't stop there: "You're cut from a different cloth," he told me. (...)
            He knew I was doing a different job, he said. This wasn't meant to be criticism. He just wanted me to understand. He had his job to do, and I had mine, he said. (...)

            "This is a physical world. The food is either finished at six o'clock, or it's not. You're either in the kitchen or you're not. Much of what one learned here was why food behaved as it did. But sometimes there was no room for why. Sometimes why didn't matter. It wasn't simply that excuses were not accepted here-excuses had no meaning at all. The physical facts in any given moment-that was all."



            Do you play with your fingers or with your brain?

            Our brain is what makes the body work.  But when we practice many of us slip back into our childhood habits of training our fingers instead of our brain.

            Consider the empo you use to get a new piece up on its feet. Many people get tempted to play up tempo sooner than the fingers are able to.

            But you have to make the fingers go as slow as the brain needs to go through all of the thought process. Only then can the fingers play accurately.

            When you play faster than the brain can comprehend, the result can only be messy. Repetition at the same tempo won't make it better, but worst, because of the muscle memory of the repeated mistakes.

            When a piece is played as slow as needed for the brain to think, the result will be consistency because of the team work between the brain and the fingers.

            Next time you hesitate to practice a piece twice slower, consider the actual speed your brain has to think at at that tempo, and you'll realize that it's not nearly as slow as you think.

            Picture from http://www.learn2rap.com/ 


            Who is in charge of the tempo here?

            When it comes to musicals, some people think that the tempo of the cast recording is the ABSOLUTE tempo, the perfect tempo that no one should ever stir from.

            Truth is, with every production and cast, the tempo has to be adjusted, and it's a great thing because that's the point of theatre: it's alive, it's real, it's ever-changing.

            Tempo need to change to fit choreography, staging, voices, and the vision of the creative team.

            "The tempo should be faster because that's how it is on the recording" is not a valid argument.


            Picture from http://johnmarkpiano.com/?cat=12


            Are you a rehearsal backseat driver?

            Are you a rehearsal backseat driver? Here are the symptoms!
            • Constantly interrupt the person in charge to give your input on what should be done at that instant, because you think that the way you go about the process is better than the way the leader's way is. 
            • When the director stops acknowledging your comments, you talk to all your coworkers and cast members hoping to get them on your side, thus creating a lot of unnecessary noise and drama. 
            • When the leader disagrees with you, you go to the person above them immediately to try to convince them that you are right and that the leader is wrong.
            If you suffer from any of these symptoms, know that you have to give your trust to the person in charge of rehearsal, and follow their lead for rehearsal, because they have a long-term plan in mind. It's like when you're the passenger of a car. You would never do the same things at the same time the driver does them, but the result is the same: you're at your destination, alive.

            Same for rehearsal, don't be a back-seat driver, trying to control and challenge every step of rehearsal. Trust that your director will get to things you would have done first, and that the result will be as strong.


            Picture from http://outdoors.webshots.com/photo/1136477800055176372jHUXIe


            Do you do your homework?

            My little sister is still in middle school, and was telling me all about her homework. I was about to show off by telling her that I didn't have homework, but then I realized that I indeed do have homework.

            Except that part of my homework is to figure out by myself what my homework is.

            Here are the five most common homework for freelancers, besides the obvious practicing.
                    1. Scheduling: this is one of those things that should be straight forward but that becomes incredibly complicated when you go from place to place and from gig to gig, and you add things into your load when you're not able to write it down immediately (when walking to your car, driving your car, carrying a million scores, etc).

                      Another kind of scheduling homework happens if you work in theatre. Things run more smoothly when I give the stage manager a schedule of how much time I need for each song and with which cast member.

                      To do so takes me a good two to three hours, because it involves looking up the cast to know how much of the show they already know, looking at the music in depth to locate trouble spots, and make the information as clear as possible (title of the song, number of the song, time needed for first rehearsal, time needed for review, who needs to come in when) so that the stage manager can make his magic and incorporate your ideal schedule into the bigger rehearsal scheme of the rehearsal process. If you want more details on how to do this, there it is.

                    2. Find and gather music: If you are ever in charge of putting together a recital or a cabaret show, you know that the difficulty lies in the fact that you have to look at what seems like a billion pieces before deciding on the few that will make it.

                      Comes a point where most of it is picked, but you may not have the right arrangement, or the right key, or not all of the parts. This is just at that particular instant that people usually think that they are done putting the music together, when indeed the next step of actually finding the right key, arrangement and parts matters the most.

                      Otherwise, the rehearsal process will start and nobody will have a clear picture of what's going on, and who is meant to do what when, and in which key, which arrangement you have in mind. Don't confuse your troops now!

                    3. Copy, tape and label music: Unfortunately this is such a daily homework for musicians! Copying and taping music is a never-ending, tedious and time consuming thing to do, but the consequences of not doing so are much too great to postpone doing it: being the one everyone is waiting on to start rehearsing because you can't find the piece, reading from a printed score which closes itself at every bar, sheets of untaped copied music falling on the floor just when the hardest technical spot is coming, etc.

                    4. Reply to emails: Easier said than done when you start rehearsals at 9am, teach all afternoon, and go to evening rehearsals during the week, rehearse all days doing the weekend and play shows at nights!

                      Meanwhile it seems as if the rest of the world is sitting behind a desk where they get to email and make phone calls all day long, and don't seem to understand that when you say you can't call, it is literally that you can not be playing your instrument, hold a phone and talk all at the same time.

                      But anyways, while I do understand how hard replying to people can be, you won't be considered professional if you don't and worst, you might actually loose gigs if you don't reply within 24-48 hours. One word: IPhone (or Droid or Blackberry). Get one. And yes, do reply to the offers you can NOT make as well, and do include recommendations of fellow musicians along.

                    5. Type handout: again, this is one of those boring annoying chores that doesn't seem crucial at first glance. So what if I don't type the cuts in this show for the musicians, I can just tell them what the cuts are! Well yes, but it will have taken you 10 min for every single musician to have gotten it (and by that I mean, they will all have gotten it right away, except for that one who will remain confuse fno matter how many times you explain it), when a simple handout would have done the trick in 2.

                      If you have students and they need directions to the hall for their semester's recital, they will be late or be a no-show if you decided to briefly tell the parents where it was instead of having printed a clear map with an address on it. Simple things do make things simpler!
                       So, get on to your homework now! The sooner you'll do it the sooner you'll be done with it!


                        Are you using your knowledge right?

                        There are things that we know we know. But of course, what matters most is not to know it, but to know when and where to or not to apply it.

                        The most common issues happen when we go from one style to the next, and thinking that because we know one style we know just what to do in the other.

                        For example, a classical chorus director might be asked to music direct a cabaret-type show, and would transfer his knowledge of pure vowels and final consonances to the cabaret, thus taking out just what makes the cabaret style: the raw and raunchy vocal style.

                        A big band conductor who is put in front of a classical orchestra might transfer the customary freedom given to big band musicians to the classical world,  which is actually used to more constant direction from a conductor.

                        A jazz pianist might not realize that improvising and adding stuff when playing a music theatre song with a singer is actually unwelcome in that style and would create confusion for the singer. 

                        If you are ever involved in a music gig from a style even so slightly different from the one you regularly play and you don't agree with what people around you do or say, consider whether those people are playing in their regular styles before speaking up about what you think they're doing wrong, because you might just be the one who is.

                        Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/scarlet-poppy/280143435/
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