Chamber Music Professional Development: IWCMF


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.


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.

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?