Sunday, August 26, 2012

Encouraging or discouraging? Depends on your perspective.

Random thought before I start: It is never too early/late in the year to listen to Philadelphia Brass Ensemble's A Festival of Carols in Brass.

So, I know, great blog entry title, right?  It could be about so many things!  I find myself re-thinking my goals and making "resolutions" as if it's a new year around this time.  I never really feel like it's a new year in January - to me, the new year starts in August!  You probably do too if you're a student, teacher, and/or musician.  So naturally, my mind is full of things I want to try to accomplish this year, and trying to remember what I did in the past year that was helpful and good (and what wasn't).

At the beginning of graduate school, my teacher, Jay Hunsberger, mentioned to me that my breathing was rather noisy.  I replied, "Yes, yes, I know..." because I had gotten the comment before, and it was one of those things I knew I should "get around to."  So the next few lessons, we did some breathing exercises, and he told me to keep improving it in my practice and giving me exercises, etc.  But it still wasn't getting that much better.  So, finally, he told me, "Rachel, if you don't learn how to breathe correctly, you will not be a professional musician."  Whoa.  I didn't know it was like that.  I then spent the bulk of my non-practicing grad student time researching breathing (which led to the article I posted a while back).

If there's anything I learned from that moment on, it's this: If you won't do it, someone else will.  (I'm not talking about paying your bills, unfortunately.)

Whatever it is - playing in extreme registers, arranging popular songs for a chamber ensemble, or playing standard excerpts well and consistently - someone has already done it and people will continue to do it (and do more).  In fact, if I've learned anything on the national audition circuit, it's that there are a lot of tuba players that can play their excerpts well.  So what if Liszt's Mazeppa arranged for band is hard?  Someone is going to come in and absolutely nail it - actually, probably more than one person will.

Now, you can take this one of two ways : 1) Wow, there are so many good players out there, so there's no way I'm going to make it, or 2)  Wow, there are so many good players out there, so that level of playing must somehow be attainable, and I should figure out how they did it.

I know many of us have probably heard a really great player and just passed it off as, "Man, that guy's just a monster player," when really, that person probably just practiced a lot.  The "monster" probably decided somewhere down the road that, "I want to be able to  ______," (fill in the blank)  and then didn't stop until that goal was reached.  It's really that simple - so, decide on some goals and commit to them.

Of course it's important to prioritize your goals, deciding on what should immediately be worked on and what can wait.  Keep tabs on yourself, too.  For instance, with my band excerpts, I'm given the set goal tempo, and every day I date and mark the tempo at which I was consistently able to play the excerpt.  I do this until the goal tempo is reached, and I practice with a metronome up until just days before the audition.  In the past, I have gotten comments about my time, and I decided it should be a goal to make that better.  You can do the same with technique exercises (and pick exercises specific to the technique you wish to better).  As far as bigger artistic goals, set deadlines for yourself. Taking a national audition before the end of the school year or holding a solo recital before summer are examples.  And buy your plane tickets or book the recital date before you can really dig into the repertoire.  That way, you can't stall.

I also fully believe that you should take time to indulge in your silliest musical fantasies to keep your mind fresh.  Who knows, you may make some of your out-there fantasies into goals and then performances.  So let your mind wander to the weirdest of places - no one has to know that you fantasize about dressing up like Lady Gaga and shooting blood and fire from your tuba (oops, guess one of my secrets is out, though are you really surprised my mind goes there?).

I think this time of year is a good time for us to have a conversation with ourselves.  What are the things that we need to do to play like [favorite musician]?  Your favorite player was at one time a student or a less experienced adult.  If you're lost, find help.

If you won't do it, someone else will.