Hybrid Arts Flutist


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Posted on June 22, 2013 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (4)

As I suspected, Take 2 was different than Take 1! Good thing I took notes on both days, huh?


Parts 4 & 5 (Take 2) - Body language creates a sense of comfort


Performing is to share a piece of the soul

Today, I again asked the question, "What're some body language things that make someone look comfortable?"

  • Shoulders back and broad
  • Standing still
  • Confident walk with purpose
  • Posture
  • Talking to the audience, not at the stand
  • Smile!
  • Open face
I then asked, "What're some body language things that make someone look uncomfortable?"
  • Hunched over and scared
  • Tension
  • Robotic
  • Knees locked
  • Hiding behind the stand
  • Jittery hands
  • Shaky breath
  • Messing with hair
  • Looking scared
Do these kids get it or what?? True, just because you know it, doesn't mean you can implement it, but knowing is half the battle, right? Well, I'll get to why I think my stage class kids are totally the best in a second.

Like yesterday, I took each student out of the room and gave them a specific scenario, emotion or character to portray. I purposely gave each person either a huge challenge based on what I perceive in their personality or something that they could directly connect to a piece I know they're working on. For example, one student competed on the Faure Fantasie this week (and she did a lovely job, by the way...). To me, the beginning of this piece is pure heartbreak and painful loss. So, to help her find that zone, I told her the scenario: the love of your life has just died suddenly and horrifically and you will never fall in love again (I know... such a happy thought...). I knew this would be a challenge for her since I perceived her as being pretty shy. However, as soon as she entered the room, her face was bright red and she seemed on the verge of tears. 

Moreover, the entire room was riveted in silence as we watched her.

Another student had barely said a word all week during the class, so I gave her "frustration". She came stomping in speaking louder than I thought she could - she even yelled! Another student was instructed to fall in love with another student (she about jumped in someone's lap!), one showed the height of anger (pointed angrily at someone and began yelling at them), one the epitome of giddyness (jumping up and down with glee that filled her entire body) and one scared the entire room with his sense of evil and power ("I am the monster under your bed. I am everywhere. I will never go away." All while standing uncomfortably over someone else).

Reading that last paragraph, I really need to come up with happier things for my students to attempt. SORRY, KIDS!! Hilary got a little dark today!!

Anyway, needless to say.... I was simply floored by what they did. They went for it! They were clear! They were 100%! And I couldn't have been prouder.

Aaaaand then we went to my second activity of the day - sharing a piece of the soul.

As I said yesterday, you should really not ask teenagers to do something so difficult. Today, three of them started off refusing to do it. Two of those three did a variation on my request by explaining why they couldn't bring themselves to do it and that was more than fine for me. In fact, the student who didn't do it all - well, that was just fine, too! I mean, I get it. There's only so much I can ask of them and I had already got them close to tears, jumping up and down, and sometimes screaming. Asking them to share something that was real, was just too much. 

That being said, the students who did go for it, completely floored me with their vulnerability and honesty. For that matter, the student who didn't do it had the same reaction on me and she didn't have to say a darn word. I could see it in her eyes, and if there was a piece of music that required that level of vulnerability of her at that moment, she would've had the audience in the palm of her hand. 

What I saw today, proved to me that all of these students have it in them to be incredible performers. They have the ability to go 100%. They can allow themselves to be vulnerable and let the audience in. 

They can do this.

After everyone spoke, I asked for a big group hug (holy crap did I need it... not to mention some of them!) and I told them how proud I am of them. I can't say it enough. I want to tell them that I'm proud of them for the rest of the month/summer/year! 

If some of you Floot Fire stage presence participants are reading this, I hope you will always hear my annoying voice in the back of your head saying five things to you before you perform:

1. Stage Voice
2. Stay in the Moment
3. Go to Extremes
4. Share Your Soul 

And lastly:
5. I am just so proud of you

Thank you for making this a week I won't forget. I hope you will all take what I've said and apply it to all you do in front of an audience.


Posted on June 20, 2013 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Today and tomorrow will feature the same questions, but (possibly) different answers since half my class learned to beatbox today and the other half will learn tomorrow. (PROJECT Trio in da hizzy!)  I had originally planned on Day 4 being body language and Day 5 being a performance, but I decided to squish these two days together and teach the same class twice. So, tomorrow will have the same title, but will be Take 2.

Get on with it!

Part 4 & 5 (Take 1) - Body language creates a sense of comfort


Performing is to share a piece of the soul

Today I asked, "What're some body language things that make someone look comfortable?"

  • Relaxed arms
  • Open torso
  • Comfortable sitting position
  • Straight backs (looks professional)
  • Eye contact with the audience
  • Smiling
I then asked, "What're some body language things that make someone look uncomfortable?"
  • Crossed arms
  • Shoulders forward/collapsed
  • Sloppy walking
  • Seeming apathetic
After this brainstorm, I took each student out of the room and gave them a specific emotion. They would then enter the room and, using body language, speech and 100% commitment, attempt to portray that emotion as clearly as possible. The rest would try to guess what that emotion was. 

This game was harder than I thought it would be. It's very easy to portray "happy" or "sad", but to fully show "painful heartbreak due to a loved one's sudden death" requires some visceral action. This last emotion, I gave to the shyest student in the room. Perhaps this was cruel on my part (sorry!!), but I was hoping he would jump out of his shell a bit with this. I think I was asking too much too soon, but I could tell (after working a bit with him on it), we did get somewhere and there's potential there for something extraordinary. At one point while we were working, we closed the doors to the room and I screamed as loud as possible to demonstrate the kind of reaction I would have in that situation. Apparently another elective heard us... whoops.

At any rate, after this little exercise, we then talked about how some of the best artists seem to be sharing a piece of their soul with the audience when they perform. I then asked each student to say one thing about themselves (using a stage voice) that is essential to who they are as a human being. Not just, "I play the flute", but something deeper and perhaps secret about themselves. I asked them to really open up and share.

Now, asking a bunch of teenagers to share something is like asking a piranha not to take a bite out of your foot. But these students surprised me. Not only did they go for it themselves, but they sat and supported each other as each person went. Needless to say, I was incredibly proud of how they attacked this project.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's entry, Getting Comfy with the Stage - Part 4 & 5 (Take 2)


Posted on June 20, 2013 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

My students in my stage presence class are pretty supremely awesome. I keep throwing crazy things at them and they're really going for it and giving it a shot. Here is today's brainstorm.

Part 3 - 100% Comimitment to Choices

Today's question was, "What makes an actor believable?"

  • Tone of voice
  • Appropriate emotion to the scene
  • Facial expression
  • Natural speaking (not just repeating lines)
  • Body language
  • Leave themselves room for improvisation
  • Staying in character

I then asked, "What makes Johnny Depp believable in 'Pirates of the Caribbean'? Or Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan'?"
  • The way they walk (body language)
  • You really believe this is happening to them
  • They give 100%

After this brief brainstorm (and a short discussion of the awesomness of Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep and Natalie Portman), we played the "Yes and No Game" where we had to converse only using the words "yes" and "no" while still being clear about the content of the conversation.

This seemed to be a little bit trickier than Zoom Schwartz and Prince of Paris for the students. I'll admit, this game isn't the best introduction to theatre improv since it's usually a good idea to start with the very basic concepts of improv first. That being said, I was mightily impressed by some of the students' willingness to jump in the deep end, even if they hopped right back out.

Tomorrow and Friday, our schedule is a little different - I'll be teaching the same class both days since half my students will be going to a different elective tomorrow and the other half on Friday. It's a long complicated story, but in short.... I have lesson plans for 5 days, but only 4 days to do them in. Alas. My plan is to do a brief brainstorm, one game and then the short final project thingie. We'll see how that goes. Tomorrow's post will include that brainstorm and probably a summary of the projects. I'll do the same Friday even though the question will be the same - mayhaps the answers will be different!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's entry, Getting Comfy with the Stage - Part 4!


Posted on June 18, 2013 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (0)

This week, I have the privilege of teaching at Floot FIre - Metroplex in Dallas, Texas! I'm teaching masterclasses, chamber music groups, and two electives, one of which is entitled "Getting Comfy with the Stage". Each day in this class, we are attacking a different aspect of having good stage presence and begin each day with a little brainstorm. 

Because my students are supremely awesome (and because I promised them I would), I'll be posting our brainstorms on here each day! 

I didn't post yesterday, because I was running on 2 hours of sleep and felt I should go to bed instead of attempting to mess with technology. So, I'll post both Monday's brainstorm and today's brainstorm in one shot.

Let's do this!

Part 1 - Using a Stage Voice

Yesterday, I asked the question: "What're some things that make a performer seem comfortable on the stage?"

  • Posture
  • Confident breathing (a shaky breathing = nervous!)
  • Facial expression
  • Confident entrance
  • Stage Voice
  • Seeing them (i.e. stand height)

I then asked them, "What makes a rockstar's performance awesome?"

  • Audience connection (talking to the audience between pieces)
  • Being open
  • Entertaining

See what I mean? These students are fantastic. It's like they've been reading this blog the whole time!! 

Since Monday was to be dedicated to the stage voice, I came back to that topic and asked, "If someone is speaking during their performance, what makes it possible for you to understand them?"

  • Projecting to the back of the room
  • Enunciation
  • Speaking slowly
  • Using hand gestures, but not too much (i.e. body language that enhances what is being said)

After this little brainstorm, we played the alphabet game in which we passed the alphabet around the circle, concentrating on eye contact and using a stage voice. After that, I taught them a few enuncuation tongue twisters. Here's a fun one to get your mouth moving:

You know New York

You need New York

You know you need unique New York

Tough to say quickly and clearly, isn't it? Once of these days, I promise to write an entry dedicated solely to using a stage voice. But for now, we'll just go on to Part 2...

Part 2 - Staying in the Moment

Today, I began by asking the question, "Why is it important for musicians to 'stay in the moment'?"

  • Staying in the moment captivates your audience
  • Maintain focus if you're nervous
  • Keeps you from going on autopilot and missing what other people are doing
  • You don't want to lose track of where you are

I then asked, "Why is it important for actors to stay in the moment?"

  • You don't want to lose character
  • If someone messes up a line, you have to be able to react naturall, not just repeat your normal lines (i.e. be ready to improvise if necessary)

After this brainstorm, we did a game called Zoom Schwartz (far too wonderful and difficult to explain at this time of night... I tried googling it, but everything I saw was a far different version that didn't look as fun. I'll post it here one of these days. Anyway, after Zoom Schwartz, we did Prince of Paris which is also insanely fun. Both these games require the players to be full committed in the moment, otherwise the flow breaks down. Needless to say, they did a wonderful job.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the week and seeing what other brilliant things they say to me!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's entry from Texas - Getting Comfy with the Stage - Part 3!


Posted on May 6, 2013 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Remember, the audience can see you during your performance, so they’re going to see the little things. Since last week’s post was rather pissy, I thought I’d be a little more positive this week. Let’s talk about the stuff we do, that the audience sees and enjoys seeing.

Like what?

The simple, silent leg applause that musicians give to each other is one example. Or the genuine smile while acknowledging applause. The look on your face when you hear a particularly beautiful part of the piece. Everyone being so IN to the music that we all move at exactly the same time. The look on your face when you play that beautiful solo.

All of this adds to the audience’s experience and they love to see us act like we’re humans.

Well, duh. We are humans.

Yeah, but some people see what we do as superhuman. They wonder just how exactly we can remember how to play all those darn notes, how we know where to put our finger on the finger board, how we know which stick will make the right noise on that one percussion instrument. The list goes on and on. Unless you’re a musician, what we do seems pretty superhuman. Hell, I AM a musician and I wonder about the humanity of some of my fellow musicians! They just seem to be too good for this planet...

When we do humanizing things, they truly love it. Now, some of these things we can control and some of these things just happen in the moment. Like everyone being in to the music and moving at the same time. We can’t always control the luck of the moment, so I’ll just focus on what we can control.

For example, I spent an entire month talking about dress code. Well, sometimes you’re allowed to break code in which case, have fun! Maybe it’s wearing goofy holiday hats during your winter pops concert. A particular section in one of the orchestras I play in always wears fun things when we can break dress code. One patriotic pops concert, they tied American flags to their bows so they would wave back and forth during “Stars and Stripes.”

It. Was. Awesome.

You don’t have to go over board. Just participate! I think spectacularly breaking the dress code (when it’s allowed!) is the ultimate humanizing thing.

Here’s another one: acknowledging and downplaying little logistical snafus. They happen, right? Stand lights randomly turn off. Forgetting your mute on the other side of the stage. Taking awhile to set up a chamber group. They happen and in the grand scheme of things, they’re no big deal (unless of course, they interfere with the performance of the piece, itself…). The audience will notice that it’s taking time to set all the stands. They’ll notice that the lights turned off and you kept playing. So acknowledge it and tell a little joke! “Who knew the orchestra had that much of the piece memorized?! Well done, guys!” or “As soon as we’ve gathered all the stands on the eastern seaboard, we’ll get started. I’m not worried. Bach isn’t going anywhere.” Again, it reminds your audience that you’re human, but it also tells them that that snafu was not a big deal and you’re not bugged by it. (If you are bugged by it, save it for later.)

The audience will notice if you go into the hall during a piece you don’t play on, so take the time to talk to them and tell them about yourself, the repertoire or the ensemble. Just like in this blog entry, use the visual aid of your classical music costume to start a conversation with a patron. If you show your excitement over the piece you’re watching, they will pick up on it and get more excited. “I love this symphony! This is one of my favorites and I never miss a chance to watch it performed!” or “Are you folks enjoying the performance so far? Thanks so much for coming tonight!”

At the end of the performance - no matter what type of ensemble you’re performing in - when the audience applauds, smile. I don’t care if you’re a substitute playing at the back of the second violins, a grizzled orchestra vet, or the newly appointed principal. Smile! Too many times, we stand without smiling. It’s odd, really. I smiled at my last orchestra concert and it felt almost wrong – like we’ve been programmed to never smile. It’s sad, when you think about it. Are we really so jaded that we think no one sees us when we stand to acknowledge the applause? Do we think the audience is only applauding the soloists and the conductor? Chamber ensembles and soloists don’t seem to have this issue, but orchestras certainly do. It makes me sad.

But YOU – yes, you – can change it!

Be yourself. Be a personable version of yourself (if you’re not already…) and enjoy being a musician. I know it’s hard sometimes, but during a performance, you can smile, be silly, and at least pretend to have a great time. Though, it’s highly recommended to actually have a great time.

Stay tuned for next week’s entry, THE LITTLE THINGS THE AUDIENCE SEES AND DISTRACTS THEM, where I discuss why it’s a really good idea to videotape yourself, practice in front of a mirror, and remember that you’re being watched.


Posted on April 28, 2013 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

So sorry for the lack of posts for almost a year! I hope to get back in the swing of things and be updating regularly on Sundays again. My last post (from almost a year ago) stated that I would be writing “Knowing Your Visual Habits.” I lied. I’m going to talk about phones first.

Your phone should never audibly go off during rehearsal. Ever. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. If you leave your ringer on and it goes off during rehearsal, you should be fined. Period.

Calm down, Miss Manners! It’s not that big of a deal! What’s your problem with phones?

Aside from the fact that I think cell phone rings are across the board incredibly annoying (I turn into The Hulk when my mom’s goes off in a restaurant always at the highest volume level possible…;), it shows a lack of respect for the work being done in the rehearsal. If it goes off during an orchestra rehearsal, you clearly do not care about what we’re all doing in this room together. Also, if you know your phone has a loud vibrate noise, turn the thing off. You don’t need your phone on at all times, do you? If you’re that obsessed with your phone, you can wait the extra minute at the top of the break to turn it back on to check your email/voicemail.

Still not that big of a deal…

You know how it feels when an audience member’s phone goes off during the third movement of Shosti 5? The violins are tremoloing way up high, the oboe is playing this incredible heart-breaking theme and suddenly IPHONE MARIMBA RINGTONE. It ruins the moment. It ruins the magic that we’ve worked so hard to create. With that one terrible sound, everyone in that room is brought plummeting back to reality when we should be having our heartstrings tugged and our eyes fill with tears.

True, rehearsals aren’t performances, but we should demand the same respect of our colleagues and ourselves that we demand from our audiences. Announcements are made before the concert begins asking audiences to turn off their cell phones. Be responsible and do the same prior to rehearsal.

But… I’m waiting for a very important phone call!

First, is it all that important? Are waiting to hear about a gig? Because you’re at one and it’s pretty rude to be hunting down work at the expense of the current work. Is a family member’s health at risk? I’m a family first sort of gal, so this one is understandable, but if it’s something you can let go to voicemail, let it go to voicemail.

We all have life issues and sometimes need to be connected in case something happens (for example, your mother is in the hospital and doing very poorly). Trust me, I get it. And believe me, this can be resolved.

If you’re in a chamber music rehearsal (chamber music = 2+ people but not a “large ensemble” with a conductor), it’s your responsibility to let your fellow musicians know what’s going on. You don’t need to give them the full story of your relative’s illness, because it’s none of their business what’s wrong with them. However, it is their business why you have to leave your phone on and pick it up when someone calls. Let them know what you’re dealing with. They’ll get it.

If you’re in a large ensemble (ex: orchestra or some other group with a conductor), you need to ask the personnel manager and/or conductor for a private word (if the group has both, talk to both people), explain the situation, and then ask if it’s alright for you to take the call outside the rehearsal room should your phone ring (and even then, leave your phone on vibrate!). If they’re ok with you doing that, then you can go for it. If not, then you’ll have to wait until a break or after rehearsal. Yeah, it sucks. But that’s the way it goes.

I get why I shouldn’t take a call or leave my ringer on, but I rest for the first three movements of the symphony and we may not get to my movement before the end of rehearsal…

Personally, I think it’s fine to play silent, unobtrusive games on your phone if you rest for a movement or if the conductor decides to hold a string sectional during full orchestra rehearsal. However, I will remind you that is MY opinion. I know many folks who thoroughly disagree with me. Get a feel for your ensemble prior to doing this. Do they seem like a fairly conservative group? Or do they not care? If you’re in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to ask, especially if you’re new. If you’re a substitute, err on the conservative side and bring a book (or get really good at daydreaming - I’m a champion daydreamer). When in doubt – daydream or book.

Can I play games during the first three movements during the concert?

Hell, no! I mean, “that is not advisable”. Do not have your phone anywhere near the stage during a concert. Don’t tempt fate. You’re not going to pick up the call during Mahler 1, so why do you need to be attached to it (the phone, that is)? If you’re concerned about it getting stolen, speak with the backstage crew during the dress rehearsal and find a safe place to stash it. Otherwise, nowhere near the stage… and still leave it on vibrate. And sorry to say… you can’t read during the concert either. Daydream and come in on time.

I’m an audience member. Is it really that bad when my phone goes off during the show?

Yes. Yes it is. Audience members should know what to do with their phones during performances, right? Off. Airplane mode. Do Not Disturb Mode. Quietly Vibrate. Nothing is worse than your phone going off during a performance that these hard-working musicians put on for you. Nowadays, every hall has reminders in the program or in the voice-over before the top of the show, so there’s really no excuse why you shouldn’t silence it. No your phone won’t mess with the in-flight navigation systems, but it’s downright rude and disturbs the magic.

Alright, this post was a little pissy, wasn’t it? I really hate cell phone rings if you couldn’t already tell!

Stay tuned for next week’s much lighter entry, THE LITTLE THINGS THE AUDIENCE SEES AND APPRECIATES, where I discuss the little things in life.


Posted on May 28, 2012 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Musicians are humans and just like every human in the world, we like to complain. We like to dig our heels in. We like to say “NO!” when it’s just as easy to say, “let’s try it.” So, today’s post is Don’t Be an A**hole. Please.

Let’s start with saying, “let’s try it” instead of saying “no.”

We are all painfully aware that the arts are struggling right now. Struggling to get funding, struggling to get audiences, struggling to pay their artists, struggling to make a career out of what you went to college for. The only good thing about this struggle is that we are starting to get really creative with how we promote and present ourselves. And it’s not just the artists who are starting to get creative and think outside the box. It’s also the executive directors, the marketing directors and the development directors – the folks not typically associated with right brain creativity. But they’re getting creative and they want…no, need our help. If every time they come up with a decent idea, we say “no”, they’re going to eventually stop asking for our help. Perhaps they’ll start demanding the help or perhaps they’ll just give up altogether. Either way, we as the folks who produce the art that people experience need to be open to new ideas. In addition to being open to new ideas, we need to bring our creativity to the brainstorming table, not just expect the other people to come up with ideas. Don’t be an a**hole if someone comes up with an idea. Give it a chance by thinking it through or by bringing a different idea to the table. Don’t shoot it down and then get angry that they aren’t doing enough.

On the flip side of the coin for the management types, include your artists in these brainstorming sessions. They are artists, after all. They are paid to be creative, so encourage them to do just that. And don’t just include them for the sake of including them. Really listen to their ideas and be open to the fact that they may just know what they’re doing. If you hand down tasks from on high without their input and creativity, they will get frustrated and feel used and invisible. You are not the only creative ones in the organization, so make sure that there is a lot of input from the production side of things. In this day and age of budget cuts, we need to work hand in hand to achieve our goals not fisticuffs.

**Gets off soap box**

Along a similar vein of being open, don’t be afraid to look silly.

**Considers soap box, moves it over slightly, and steps back on**

A novel idea that orchestras are trying are playing with the attire and dress code. Perhaps the performance is all music from the 50s, so the musicians are asked to dress in 50s costumes. Will you look silly in a poodle skirt? Oh, yes. Will the audience appreciate it? Totally! It’s a little thing and they like it. It also humanizes the musicians, making them more approachable. Do you need to go out a rent/buy a $50 costume? No. There are ways to create homemade costumes on the cheap, but you have to give it a try first.

At a young people’s concert, perhaps the education director asks the entire orchestra to cover their ears at a certain part. Do it! Do it with enthusiasm! Kids love that stuff! Don’t be an a**hole and roll your eyes at the fact that you’ve been asked to do something silly and undignified. Especially at a young people’s concert, silly and undignified is a wonderful way for kids to learn that the orchestra isn’t just boring old people playing music by boring old dead people.

**Considers the ground and decides to stay on the soapbox**

Be gracious. When the audience applauds, smile. When they tell you how wonderful your conductor is, agree (no matter what). Make them feel appreciated. Don’t ever complain in front of an audience member. When orchestra members congratulate you on your solo, say thank you with some semblance of sincerity.

**I really love my soapbox. It’s comfy up here.**

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Have you tried to be an education director or marketing director for an orchestra? It’s a tough job, especially if you don’t have an assistant or an intern. Think about what they’re dealing with before you decide to have a cow about something they’ve asked you to do. Maybe an opportunity materialized and they’d like to take advantage of it. Remember, they need your help. If it’s in your contract that you need 30 days notice and they’ve only given you a week, consider helping this person and the organization out. I’m not saying you should let them take advantage of your schedule, but if you don’t have any previous plans or if you have plans that can be easily moved, consider taking the gig. They will owe you one and they won’t forget it. If there comes a time that you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, set up a meeting, lay out your issue in a calm and rational way. If you truly try to not be an a**hole, they will appreciate your words and will respond accordingly. That goes for all parties, in fact, not just the artists. Always try to see things from the other side of the coin and ask yourself, “Is it fair that I’m feeling this way? Or did I misinterpret something?”

These are all pretty obvious, aren’t they? However, especially in the orchestra world, there seems to be this mentality of “us versus them” from all parties. As soon as one “side” does something a**hole-y, then the other “side” does something and it becomes a gigantic downward spiral. However, if you refuse to be an a**hole, then no one can accuse of doing just that.

And that goes for everyone.

**Puts soapbox away for the week**

Stay tuned for next week’s entry, KNOWING YOUR VISUAL HABITS, where I discuss why it’s a really good idea to videotape yourself and practice in front of a mirror.


Posted on May 23, 2012 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

We all know to play nice with the conductors, the executive directors and the personnel managers. I mean these are the people who’ve hired us to play music and could ensure that we never work for them again if we perform badly or act like jerks. But these are not the only people who deserve our respect and congeniality.

A wise man (my dad) once told me that you should always make friends with the people who work behind the scenes - custodians, secretaries, stagehands, you name it. Over the past several decades of my dad’s career as a public school music teacher, he has gone out of his way to make friends with the custodians and all the secretaries in the main office. He hasn’t always done this with the administration.


Those behind the scenes can be your greatest allies or your worst enemies depending on how you treat them. If you are kind to these folks, they will be more willing to go out of their way – maybe even break some rules – to help you out. If you run roughshod over them, they can make your life a living hell (and with good reason).

It’s a sad fact that our society ignores, takes advantage and is blatantly rude to the people behind the scenes. These folks deal with stupid, rude, inconsiderate people all day. For a custodian, they deal with people leaving trash everywhere and leaving their room a mess. For a secretary, it’s rude parents and teenagers. Stagehands get yelled at for mixing up chairs or putting a stand in the wrong place.

Simply put, just because they aren’t making the music for the audience or teaching your children, they are still an integral part of what we all do. Show them the utmost respect. And frankly, isn’t this a good idea for life?

Let me give you an example. There is a wonderful stagehand that works with one of the orchestras I play in. Let’s call him Frank. All of the percussionists in this orchestra are really friendly with Frank and treat him as an equal. In response, he does his very best to make sure they have all the gear they need in the right place. Granted, Frank isn’t a percussionist so this isn’t the easiest for him. But he always tries. Also, since I’m not a local musician, eating out at restaurants all weekend gets expensive so I bring a cooler full of food with me. Frank lets me store my vittles in his fridge backstage. I can’t tell you how big a help this has been for me and it’s all because I take time out each concert cycle to say hello to Frank, ask how he is and commiserate with him if it’s a huge stage set-up.

When was the last time you thanked your stagehands for being so quick with striking the piano from the stage and putting the 1st violins’ chairs back? Does it really matter if it wasn’t perfect?

When did you last thank your custodian for emptying your office’s trash?

Yes, I know it’s their job to do these things. But it’s your job to play music and doesn’t the audience thank you for it with their applause? Don’t they approach you after the concert and congratulate you?

The audience doesn’t get to know our backstage friends. So in lieu of a standing ovation, let your local stagehand, custodian and secretary know how much you appreciate what they do. We all want to feel appreciated and those behind the scenes deserve to feel that way, too.

Stay tuned for next week’s entry, DON’T BE AN A**HOLE, where I ask musicians to not be, well… you get the point.


Posted on May 6, 2012 at 2:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I highly encourage everyone to speak during their performances. Speaking during the performance creates a connection between performer and audience and the stronger the connection, the better the performance will feel for all parties. In addition, by breaking that “fourth wall” (the invisible wall at the front of the stage separating the audience from the stage action), you bring the audience into your world and because this seems to be a rare occurrence in performances, audiences simply love it. That covers why you should talk, so let’s move on to what you should say.

Not everyone wants to read the program notes, because sometimes the notes can be too analytical for a non-musical audience (for example: “If one concept must be grasped, it is this - the ultra-polyrhythmic counterpoint always layers the intervals, and it must do so entirely simultaneously. This composition performs all sorts of pieces, before exploring somewhat ultra-semantically, and finishing with an extremely anti-12-tone series of 'tempo-challenges' [as I like to call them].”*) And sometimes audience members arrive too late to read the notes before the lights go down. At any rate, this is an opportunity to tell your audience what you get from the piece. Is it one of your favorite pieces? Why? Is the piece a standard in your instrument’s repertoire? Does it have an interesting story? Does the composer have an interesting story or connection to you? You get the idea. Make it personal and humanizing. Now, let’s move on to who should speak.

If you’re performing a solo recital, then you should do all the talking. It’s your gig and your responsibility. If this is a chamber ensemble concert with one group playing multiple pieces, then everyone should speak (or as many as possible). The gig is a shared responsibility and the speaking should be as well. For chamber ensemble concerts with multiple groups playing one piece each, choose the strongest speaker. There just isn’t time to get everyone to speak in this type of situation. Orchestra concerts should obviously be the conductor or the MC (if there is one) since they’re the authority in charge, so to speak. So when should this happen?

Depends on the flow of the program. If your opening piece needs to be explained (ex: the piece tells a story), do it! If you programmed the opener as simply an opener, then let it be and just play it. Talk afterwards. I don’t see a problem with talking before each piece – especially if you stay onstage for the entire performance. However, if you talk for each, make sure the information is important, interesting and concise. Random factoids for the sake of factoids are not a good idea if you talk prior to each piece. If you don’t want to talk prior to each, you can go with the method of after every other piece or just when it’s important. That being said, don’t leave all your speaking to the very end. It wouldn’t make sense in the flow of the program. Symmetry is not a bad idea, too! 

So… how to go about this?

Step 1: learn how to use your stage voice. This is incredibly important for instrumentalists. Vocalists are taught how to resonate while they sing and this frequently carries over into their speaking voices. This is very good for them because when they speak, people can always hear them (aaaand then instrumentalists make fun of them…;). Instrumentalists should learn from their vocalist friends – speak loudly and resonate often. I’ll ask one of my vocalist friends to explain how to resonate in a future guest post.

Step 2: speak up! If you’re not using a microphone, speak louder than you think necessary and much slower than necessary. Our tendency when nervous is to “sub-phonate” (not put enough air behind the words, creating a guttural voice) and speak quickly. Your audience will not be able to understand you if you do this and might be too polite to holler, “HEH?! WHAT DID HE SAY??”

Step 3: listen to your words. Especially be aware of the ends of words. Radio hosts can always be understood because they are profoundly aware of how to phonate without the words dying off. Enunciation is paramount in public speaking – to get your point across, you must first say it clearly. Ever hear a kid say “horror house” and get really freaked out about what they’re talking about? There’s a big difference between that word being 2 syllables or 1…

Step 4: plan out what you will say. Depending on how comfortable you are with public speaking, you can write out a full script to memorize or just plan out the details. Either way, figure out what you will say and practice. No one likes to hear you say “umm” and “uhh” several times in a sentence. It doesn’t sound polished or professional. (Side note: I had a professor say “umm” over 700 times in one lecture. Yes. We counted.) Remember, this is part of the performance, too.

Step 5: speak often. The more you speak to audiences, the easier it will get. Don’t be shy – just do it.

Stay tuned for next week’s entry, FOLKS WHO WORK BEHIND THE SCENES, where I discuss why you should be kind and courteous to this people. Well, you should do that anyway, but I’m going to discuss why you should be extra kind.

* Excerpt taken from The Contemporary Classical Composer Bull-Sh*t Generator: http://www.dominicirving.com/temp/cccbsg.pl?


Posted on April 29, 2012 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I’ve spent the last three weeks rambling on and on about what is and what is not appropriate attire. Now, I’m going to show you what I mean.

When it comes to small ensemble playing, I greatly admire the Afiara String Quartet not just as musicians (they are AMAZING), but also in how they present themselves. This is a picture from one of their performances:

Polished, well-fitting, comfortable, everything. If you were in the audience when this quartet walked onstage (and you’ve never heard them before), your first impression (which is visual!) would be that you knew you were in for a good concert.

This is the Xenia Ensemble from a performance in Italy.

I’m sure they’re a wonderful ensemble, but visually speaking, the only thing interesting is the 2nd violinist’s hair and the pipa player’s top. Oh. And the chairs. As I mentioned in Part 2, wearing all-black on a black stage, makes the ensemble disappear.

Here is a picture of the Imani Winds performing a young audiences show.

Notice that they aren’t wearing anything that makes them look imposing (such as all-black or tuxedos). The women are also wearing shirts that are appropriate for this type of performance (i.e. no cleavage) and yet all of them are still dressed up and look nice.

You may remember also from Part 2, my advice on making a choice. Just as Lady Gaga has made a strong to choice with her wardrobe, there are classical musicians doing the same. For example, take the spectacular violinist, Hahn Bin.

His attire is pretty out there (though he backs it up with amazing playing) and while I may not personally agree with his choice, I appreciate that he fully commitments to it.

Lastly, conductors should like nice, too. This is Larry Rachleff.

Not only is he an amazing conductor, but he is always dressed impeccably. His jacket fits, he can still easily move without his shirt cuffs sticking out a foot past his coat sleeves, the style is unique and it’s appropriate for the performance.

Hopefully, these pictures give you some idea of what to wear for your next performance. For now, I will get off my attire soapbox and go practice.

Stay tuned for next week’s entry, SPEAKING FROM THE STAGE, where I will discuss how to do that without sounding like the world’s worst music history teacher.


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