Chamber Music Professional Development: IWCMF

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Imani Winds Bassoonist Monica Ellis coaching Coleman’s Afro-Cuban Wind Concerto

A typical day started at 9:30am and quitting time was often around bedtime. The morning workshop that started the day was always with the Imani Winds after which we would follow our schedules toward a rigorous day of masterclasses, coaching, and professional development seminars. There was no time to be shy with our chamber groups; we got cozy and comfortable with each other pretty fast to coordinate rehearsal times between mandatory festival events.

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Jason Moran with the Imani Winds

Each chamber group had been notified of their assignment before setting foot on campus, and had also been assigned an Emerging Composition fellow (ECP) . In addition to rehearsing the standard repertoire we would be coached on, we would also be working with our assigned ECP fellow on a piece to be played in concert at the culmination of the festival. telller, composed by my group’s fellow, Sequoia Sellinger, told the story of 5 artists who had all been at one time romantically involved. Demanding extended technique aside, the most grabbing part of the performance was the stage acting the piece called for, including on stage bickering that featured me snatching the oboist’s reed in protest of his intonation! I can now add Comedic Silent Actor to my resume.

The importance of building a network of artistic and personal support, or one’s “Tribe” as Valerie Coleman called it, was a central point of the festival. Professional development seminars covered skills such as networking, building a brand, and the elevator pitch. As an introvert, these workshops were invaluable to me. Returning to Boston, I was so inspired as to join Castle of our Skins where my primary responsibility is to be public facing and to talk to people all the time. A large part of my motivation this past year has been my passion for the work that I do, that we all do, as an artist. However the true catalysts, I must say, are the inspiring people and experiences I had with my Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival (IWCMF) cohort.

Though we were only together for a week, our cohort had a lasting impact on me that I carried into the following year. IWCMF seeks, in a week, to give fellows a comprehensive, educational experience. Touching on all of the tools that comprise an artist’s skill
set in one week is definitely as demanding as it sounds. And yet, I can say that last year was a rigorous experience, but also one of the professional highlights of my summer and I am excited to be returning this year.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Community Resources: Entrepreneurship Course at RCC

Last week, I completed the Create Your Own Job Seminar. Offered at Roxbury Community College, the course introduces topics from crafting a business plan to deciding when and how to incorporate your business. The course culminated with a one on one 15 minute, pro bono Q&A with one of the lawyers of Latham & Watkins, LLP.

I really appreciated Alexa and Priya of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice for their availability and willingness as mentors. They wanted to know our individual goals and presented topics to us with this in mind. Each week a different guest speaker presented on topics such as personal finances, business planning, and marketing. It definitely benefited us that the speaker each week was different and a specialist in their field. Not only were we hearing from a specialist, but we were hearing different perspectives, which helped to reinforce what I was learning.

Travis Grillo of Grillo’s Pickles, came to speak as an example of the program’s success. His business, self described as “starting with a pickle and a dream“, started with a niche product that grew over time because of demand, rather than the planned profit potential of a typical startup. One of the more laid back presentations, we brainstormed out loud ways in which the markets of the class participants overlap and how, just with the ideas in the room, we can help each other.

That is not to say that a person should not take the course if they have not yet determined what their product or niche market is. I attended the course as a musician looking for the skills to create opportunities for myself. I literally wrote that on my attendance intake form the first day. It so happens that, during the stretch of the course, some ideas formulated for me, but the knowledge I gained in the class was useful all the same.

Anyone who knows me has heard me lament about the lack of business training that artists receive from higher educational institutions. Did you know that when the CIA runs security clearances for job applicants, they check your credit history? Nowhere in Quantum of Solace does M remind 007 that he should be keeping his receipts. If spies have to find time between learning advanced driving skills, espionage, languages, and marksmanship to be financially responsible, why shouldn’t we? (Granted, rubbing elbows with the 1 percent, while impeccably dressed and digging for information, you would probably hear some insider information drop, but you see where I’m going with this.)

Artists operate in a nebulous area between non-profit and for profit. We are typically funded by grants, fellowships, and donations, but these projects also pay our salaries. This was not lost on the presenters when I asked specific pointed questions for my use case. I also appreciated that if the presenters did not know the answer, they would try to point me in the direction of a resource where I could find the answer for myself. I would highly recommend this class to anyone who wants take the helm of their own creative destiny and is looking for a place to start.

A Series on Piazzolla: Histore 1930

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The first time I heard Piazzolla, I was a freshman in college. It had everything I require for catharsis: rich, lush harmonies driven by a purposeful, powerful bass and interesting, poly-rhythmic motif.  I don’t remember which piece of his I heard first, but his music immediately grabbed, held my attention and it would not it go

Tango, and other related or derivative styles such as flamenco, charanga, and milonga, are the result of the melting pot that was Spain dating back to the Moor invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, colonization of the Americas, and the mixing and mingling of these cultures. Astor Piazolla, an Argentinian of Italian immigrant parents, was born March 11, 1921 and died July 4, 1992. The more I learned about Piazzolla and his music, the more I appreciated. Nadia Boulanger, whose footprint can be counted at my alma mater, Longy, was very important to his development, and encouraged him to use what he learned as a student at the Paris Conservatoire in his exploration of Tango. Internationally recognized as a revolutionary of Nuevo Tango, this and the influence of jazz is very apparent in his music.

And Histore du Tango: Cafe 1930, as is his style, delivers. Though it is a slower movement, the second of the four movements in the whole work, the left hand of the piano gives it steady drive, providing a groove under which the flute gets to float. Moods change quickly and suddenly in this movement – another reason he is one of my favorite composers. Histore was written as an homage to the evolution of Tango. Piazzolla paints a picture of Tango at different points in history: a bordel in 1900, a cafe in 1930, a night club in 1960, and a fourth movement of his own interpretation of tango today.

Though I was captivated by Piazzolla as a college freshman, I did not have the opportunity to perform his music for a public audience until this year. (That’s over 10 years ago). I’m still studying and learning about Nuevo Tango and don’t know that I’ll ever feel like I can do it justice, as the best recordings on record are of Piazzolla himself on bandoneon playing his works. But, starting with Cafe 1930, I want to share my interpretation of Piazzolla’s music and what it means to me.

Also included are interpretations of Cafe 1930 on other instruments. It was intended for flute or violin, but Piazzolla’s music is loved by all instrumental disciplines and is transcribed frequently. Usually played with guitar, my arrangement on flute is with piano. Arrangements for trumpet, and the alternative with guitar on violin are below:

 

So about auditions in the summer

I don’t know about you, but – as discussed in a previous post – the weather has adverse reactions to my playing.  Now that it is summer, with one of the hottest on record, I’ve noticed that the heat gives me terrible dry mouth. I might as well put cotton balls in my cheeks when I play because it sounds the same. Looking for a holistic approach, I paid attention to my body for a few days and discovered a few things that maybe you’ll find found helpful too:

Brushing before playing doesn’t help

Before these unrelenting heat waves, brushing, and even take that time to exfoliate my lips, before playing seemed to give me a smooth clean surface with which to play. On hot summer days this can have the opposite desired effect. If brushing before playing is a must, try brushing with a toothpaste that is designed not to further irritate dry mouth like Biotine or Act products

Hydrate your surroundings

Singers are good at paying attention to control of their environment for their vocal health and we instrumentalists should take note. Aside from not engaging our vocal chords, a lot of the mechanisms and body parts we use to produce and resonate sound are the same. When I think of my body as part of my instrument, I approach self care with more vigilance.

Hydrate yourself

Drink loads of water leading up an audition (and in general. Water is the sweet, sweet nectar of life. It’s good your you.) Just make sure your first question when you arrive to the audition is “where are the bathrooms?”

Eat foods/liquids that cause salivation

This I figured out this week. Lemon in water can be helping during an audition, especially if dry mouth is an under pressure occurrence. I’m hard core, so today I put lime juice in a bottle and sipped it separate from the water.

Next time, I’ll make sure I don’t forget my water bottle when I go into the audition room…


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Audition Preparation during Snowmageddon

 

About a week or so before an audition, I begin to really feel antsy with performance anxiety. When I get like this, it helps me to remind myself what is and is not within my power to control.

This got me thinking about how difficult I found some of the auditions I took this winter. Travel and self care in the winter time can be time consuming at best, defeating and life draining at worst. For those of you who, like me, do not enjoy wintry weather, I wanted to share with you my tips and tricks that help me prepare for audition time. Let me know what you think. What is your audition time ritual?

Lip Protectant

It took me way too long to figure out I should keep some in my Altieri bag! For wind musicians, our lips are very important to what we do. I’ve woken up early, spent 2 hours warming up slowly with precision and intent. Everything is falling into place. My instrument is almost playing itself. Now I have to travel from my home (or hotel) to the audition. In below freezing temperatures, it seems like all it takes is 10 minutes to dry out my skin, particularly on the lips, mitigating all the work done to warm up the embouchure.

My favorite lip protectant is Aquaphor by Eurcerin. It adds needed moisture that’s not there and holds onto it. But it doesn’t leave the lips as a mushy, shedding mess.

Incidentally, it’s also great for adding shine on top of a lip stain, as well as spot treatment of eczema. If you like an extra bang for your buck in terms multi purpose use, its a pretty good product to have.

Small towel

A pet peeve a mine is chapped, shedding lips. Dead skin can get in the way of the air stream. It gives me the feeling of a lack of control over the sound, and under pressure this is the last thing I want to be worried about. A quick way I get rid of unwanted, chapped skin is to wet a small hand towel and rub in a back and forth motion on relaxed lips, lightly, until they are nice and smooth. If they’re extra dry, and I have the time, I’ll let lip moisturizer sit for about 10 minutes before exfoliating. Then, nothing gets in the way of that smooth, controlled breath and air stream.

Water Bottle with Filter

In the winter time I can’t drink enough water. When adrenaline starts to kick in during performing, technical passages requiring double tonging – or lots of air in general – can prove futile if dehydration is an obstacle. A bottle of water with a built in filter is one less thing to think about. When the clock is winding down to your audition time and you need water, any sink will do because you have your own filter in hand.

Decent Gloves and other hand warming ‘tricks’

Sometimes time is not on my side. If I don’t have too much time between arriving and performing, I try to decrease the time needed to warm up my hands and loosen joints for maximum dexterity by immediately warming my hands when I arrive. Hand warmers inserted in thick, lined gloves are also no stranger to me in really, really cold temperatures when I have not choice but to be I’m foot. Otherwise, heck, I’ll take a cab door to door. Shouldn’t I spare no expense to put my best foot forward?

High Protein Snacks

If the audition is one with multiple rounds throughout the day, I sometimes don’t have enough time to break for a meal to keep my strength and stamina up. I like to arrive to audition as early as possible, if my nerves can stand it. If I arrive in the morning, and find my audition time is not until sometime later, this can also be a drag, because I’m sitting around, warmed up with no place to go – especially if the audition is in the middle of nowhere. Sitting around, surprisingly, uses more energy than you’d think. I personally find I need to recharge every 3-4 hours.

Comfortable shoes for travel

My freshest heeled oxfords or most authoritative Mary Janes might keep it 100, but they are probably not appropriate for commuting. I like to wear comfortable shoes to the venue and my baller shoes for audition. I practice in my audition shoes in the weeks leading up to the audition, but I don’t warm up in them so that I don’t tire myself out before I walk into the audition room to be heard.

Something that motivates you to keep it moving

Last but not least, something that will take your mind off of the outcome of the audition, no matter what happens. Celebratory drinks with friends, or curling up with a good book. I like to read about people who continue to bang on the door of opportunity, no matter how many times it is shut on them. The audition process can be daunting; a large chunk of the game is spent hearing ‘no’ many times before getting to yes.

It’s important to have something to look forward to after an audition to remind us that, while we do not have control over the outcome of the audition, there are other things that we can empower ourselves with.

How I choose to prepare and condition myself for the audition is completely my choice and up to me. The time I spend conditioning my body and spirit, and what activities I choose to achieve this is my decision. How I interpret the music and express my intent is completely within my control. Whether or not I choose to be conventional, contemporary, safe or bold with my style and phrasing is up to me.

After an audition I’ll plan to clean the house, go shopping, go to the gym, read, anything. I make a plan so that after the audition, no matter how how high the stakes are, it will seem as close to any other day as possible.

That’s it! What do you think? What’s on your list of must haves/do’s before an audition?