The Happy Orchestral Musician

A happy orchestral musician is also an active musician. She expresses her ideas with section leaders and stand-partners and builds relationships with as many musicians as she can. She talks and interacts with them on breaks and takes an interest in their point of view—personal and professional. She also discusses her personal approach on how her section should sound like. She knows she cannot manipulate her colleagues or tell them what to do—but she can inspire them.

 

You mission is not to fix the ensemble but to improve the quality of work among colleagues—you can take the first step for the group. That alone will automatically fix most your orchestra’s issues.

 

It is easy to forget about YOUR mission and YOUR compromise with the orchestra because you CAN get lost in the middle of your section. You shouldn’t, doing so will hurt your level of happiness in the long run.

 

At the end of the day, all that matters is what you do for the success of music; when music succeeds usually happiness follows. When you look for solutions you beat the rumors, and achieve the status of a happy orchestral musician.

 

CESAR AVILES

A Small Guide to Success: for Young Musicians.

Celebrities live inside magazines, CD covers, blogs and websites, not in your town. But when one of them decides to visit your school or local venue, somehow they become real. They will address you; they will give you advice and breathe the same air for a couple of hours.

The truth is: there is not only one way of reaching your goals in music. Celebrities don’t own the key and the rules to success. Each one of us is responsible for finding our own ways. And usually when music celebrities show up in town, we get anxious. We get ready to find out the truth about success from the living masters—but they never really teach us 100% how.

We keep looking deeper. We ask them questions and yes, we get some answers, but are they applicable to your own situation?

Again, each one of us is unique (with unique circumstances) and MUST figure out a way to reach our own goals.

The first step is to relax in these environments and accept that you are young and inexperienced. I’ve come to learn that living a realistic but ambitious life (that means stay with your feet on the ground) can be the most rewarding life of all.

When you wish you had the connections and the gigs of these celebrities, you are not living in peace.

Instead, the next time you are in a master class, study the composer or soloist. What’s their attitude? Is he a happy person? Is he motivated even though he has to deal with a “lower class” of musicians? Is he glad to be there, or do you think he’s there for the fame and the money?

Learn about the kind of person he or she is, not only how great they are in music.

After all, these guys are not only musicians; they are people as well. Learn the difference. Some will be good at both, others only at one thing (usually only good at music).

Identify in what area are these famous soloists good. Then be a sponge and grab all the juice you can.

Understand that these guys also worked REALLY hard to get there; even if luck played a big role, one never gets to be a top dog without effort and lots of painful work.

When you get to meet these stars take a picture with them and get your CD autographed, ask them a question but don’t let your heart get anxious. We ambitious musicians get anxious easily, perhaps because we’d love to be the ones singing the CD—don’t let that kill your happiness, give time a bit of time. There is so much more of being a soloist/celebrity than we “regulars” don’t know about (and perhaps would never like to know).

Lastly, relax, meditate and eat well in order to stay in your best shape as a person and musician. Take things one step at the time and do not rush the process. Believe in your mission as a musician and in what you have to offer to the world. One day things will be clear (or at least clearer). One day you’ll look back and be glad you did the right thing.

Music is: My Hobby and My Profession

There is a difference between being passionate about something (a hobby) and turning that passion into a job (becoming a professional). Jobs are full of stress and deadlines and once you turn pro, those deadlines kill the fun.

 

As a professional, people EXPECT high quality of work from you. You’ll then have to put extra hours whether you feel like working or not. And that’s when it stops being fun.

 

Soon you’ll relate your profession with stress and will never, ever, ever spend an afternoon of relaxation doing what you, in the first place, loved as a hobby.

 

Something that helps me stay passionate about music is imagining—for a second or two—that I’ve already reached my full potential; that I cannot be a better musician than the one I am today.

 

That helps me kill the expectations.

 

And with no expectations happiness can stay around longer (which is one of the top goals in life). In that world I feel more relaxed; it’s a world of meditation and gratefulness.

 

The good news for musicians is that most of us have many sources of income, teaching, gigging, arranging, etc. With different things to do, one can stay fresh and approach each side of the craft differently every time.

 

My advice: Turn pro anyway. Go after your dream job and when things get tough, smile. You are staying on track, you are following your heart’s mission, you are after the best version of yourself. Not easy but more than worth it.

How to Reach Your Goals in Music

You cannot enroll in 1001 projects and expect proficiency at each one of them. If you do so you won’t have time to relax, which is an essential ingredient to stay fresh and work at your best level the next day.

Learn how to say NO.

Your personal projects and the things that matter to you deserve your full attention, give it to them.

Don’t feel bad saying NO to a good cause because you have to practice. Too often we find ourselves saying YES because, you know, we must help the unfortunate, or this club or church.

But your mission in life is not to save the world.

Yes, do help; pick 1 or 2 causes, be a volunteer in your club and regularly help them however you can but make sure they fit in your schedule. If you keep pushing things into your schedule you’ll have too many projects and no strength to keep up with your morning scale routine; which is crucial to reach your main mission as a classical musician.

The above doesn’t mean you must become a workaholic. It means you must stay centered and focused in order to be where you want. It’s very difficult to have a dream job in music, but not impossible if you stay centered; this post is about setting your priorities straight and finding the best way to achieve those goals.

A word about discipline

Discipline doesn’t mean you have to put in 10 hours a day; it means you know what to do when. It starts by scheduling and sticking to what you wrote. Discipline means that more than 2 serious projects at the time are not considered serious anymore, but a distraction to the main craft you are trying to master.

Reanalyze your priorities and prepare and attack plan. Trust what you write every Sunday for the entire week, and give time a bit of time. Enjoy doing the work that’s meaningful to you and help those who need your help—but don’t fall into the trap of leaving your center because others need you.

Treat your craft seriously but still enjoy what you do—you have to meet in the middle in order to stay sane and happy but also productive and successful.

A Classical Musician’s List

Over the years I’ve done unimaginable things with my career, but I lack the skills to sit down and enjoy them. Only because they didn’t include a position in one of the world’s best orchestras—my #1 goal.

 

For months I wrote articles on this blog knowing I was going to impact a mass of people. I wrote gold advice, things that work, and yet I didn’t follow my own advice.

 

I was suffering because I was not there yet. No matter how many years of practice, discipline and effort, I was not where I wanted to be and that itched. My heart was unrestful and my expectations unfulfilled.

 

In fact, my expectations were killing me. I had to do something about it, but as I tried to figure out a plan to find some sort of contentment, I realized my mission was going to take more than a day.

 

Like everything in life, I needed to go through a process.

 

Slowly, very very slowly, I opened my eyes to see reality. And it included:

 

1. Time to build my own business—having only a part time in the music school, I can promote my teaching studio at home and my Latin-American duo. I always wanted a band with professional musicians. Now I have the time to start building something meaningful to me.

 

2. I can practice and compose—that means I keep getting better. I keep growing. With a full job you don’t get to practice as much—I can, and that’s a gift I couldn’t see.

 

3. I can produce my own CD and write a book— Those 2 are high in my bucket list. Our first CD comes out before Christmas and my book with the best of TCM will come out in July 2015. Again, I have time to work on what matters to me because I don’t have a full time job.

 

4. I can hone my writing skills—and write for a community of passionate people. I built it from scratch and now I can keep moving it forward.

 

5. I can pursue one of my all time passions—film music! I’m taking a class with Berklee Online and loving every second. As a young musician I dreamed of scoring films, and by not having a full time orchestra job I can pursue my passion. Six weeks into the program I may have find my real true call. We’ll have to wait to make it final, but thanks to extra time, I can enjoy and learn this craft.

 

6. I have time to budget travel—in Europe you can take a plane for 20 Euros. I love hostels, adventure, travel hacking, history and meeting new people. Nothing like standing in front of Dvorak’s tomb or visiting Beethoven’s House. It simply transforms your life.

 

7. I have many weeks off from the music school—I can relax with my wife and visit my family for the holidays without asking for permission—I just have (long) vacations 4 times a year. What else, I mean, really?

 

To be honest I was never completely happy, and the above is only the beginning. If you add to that that I am healthy, warm and have food to eat every day, I might as well be a millionaire.

 

Obsession is part of ambition and up to a certain point is acceptable. But I surpassed that point a long time ago and forgot about the other wonderful things life has gotten me.

 

I was focused on my #1, orchestra and forgot I could actually have #2 through #8.

It doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep trying to get my #1. I only took time from it to appreciate other things on my list—time to go through the healing process.

After a couple of months I will decide what to do with orchestra. It may or not stay in the #1 position, but what’s important is that I can see—I can appreciate the other stuff in my life.

 

I rather have from 2-8 (that’s 7 items all together) than only #1.

Here’s a recipe I found online that might help you with your goals:

Reality – Expectations = Happiness

It’s in this article.

 

Lesson: don’t take for granted the rest of your list, they are as important as your #1. Take off your fictional glasses and slowly put on your reality shades. It will take a lot of pressure of your chest and will bring a smile back on your face.

Spiderman, Beethoven and Classical Music

Today, the legacy of Beethoven is mostly enjoyed by musicians and grandparents. Teenagers walk into a concert hall full of grandmothers and run away faster than the speed of light. It’s our responsibility to start educating; to teach them what they are missing.

Art (and classical music) makes people sensible, because one must look deep inside themselves; there is no final product to consume—you must make the product and consume what you make out of it.

It’s more complicated than eating popcorn and watching Spiderman 3 in the theater. After all, the guy jumps from buildings and fly all over New York City while Beethoven is full of…adagios. Adagios take effort to understand; a flying spider with cool sound effects takes none.

There is no competition; Spiderman will always be cooler for most teenagers. But we can at least introduce them to the benefits of art (and classical music).

Here’s an idea:

1. We need to make classical music accessible. We need music programs in more neighborhoods so that kids can experience what is to be in a community—a place where musicians are cool. I know, funding the arts is a real mission impossible in almost every country. Here’s a second solution:

 

2. Professional musician need to stay pumped. Even with a secure job! We need to stay in shape as performers and create free websites with interactive media, free videos and examples of lessons. If every one of us do a little bit of unpaid work for the same cause, we could impact society greatly. I’m not saying you need to spend 8 hours a week working for free, but spend one hour a week creating a website with useful info, helping one kid in your community with free lessons or doing something to promote our art. But it won’t happen if you don’t stay motivated and pumped.

 

3. We are ambassadors. Nobody else cares about classical music more than us classical musicians. We know how gratifying it can be to play an instrument, therefore WE need to teach and help others feel that gratification. If they feel it, they will talk about it—and more people will be talking about our genre of music.

 

We musicians do a lot of great things, like standing together to fight the injustice of playing for tokens or free; but we hardly think about educating. I don’t mean necessarily an instrumental education but more like explaining why classical music matters—that takes a lot of unpaid effort and work. But it will be for our own future as artists. It’s how we will enjoy an educated audience in the future.

 

Classical music is a way of life, our way of life; let’s start a revolution!

Travel and Music: Three Short Stories

New York— The day before our New York performance, one of my friends from the orchestra (from El Salvador) told some of us violinists that he knew the concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra—the orchestra that was going to perform at Carnegie Hall that night. At first we thought he was joking, but that night we all met the concertmaster. Not only that, he invited us (a group of violinists) for dinner and we heard some amazing stories.

I have finally made it to Carnegie Hall, I thought. But it was not because I practiced 10 hours a day for many years—I just got lucky. That week we were going to accompany Joshua Bell, one of my all time favorite violinists.

A week in New York with old friends plus “my debut” at Carnegie Hall made for an unforgettable experience. I was playing last chair second violin—but who cares, I was there, where Heifetz played.

To this day, I don’t think I have a story that can beat this one. It was one week of perfection. Playing with famous soloists, plus gathering with old friends, meeting extraordinary concertmasters, playing in one of the best halls in the world, free time to enjoy NYC. Can it get better than that? I am super grateful to have experienced one of the best weeks of my life already.

 

China—In the summer of 2009 I applied to a bunch of music festivals. That summer I got a bunch of rejection letters; but I still got two positive responses from The World Orchestra and the Youth Orchestra of the Americas. Thanks to that effort I traveled to many countries and experienced new cultures, new people, new ways of life. This time The World Orchestra invited me to their winter session/tour. Only problem was, I just graduated from a bachelor degree and was transitioning to get my masters in the USA—money! I had none, and this orchestra requires you to pay for your transportation (a roundtrip ticket).

While in China, the orchestra was going to pay for everything: transportation within China, hotels, food, etc. It was a pretty sweet deal given that I only had to pay a plane ticket and live “for free” a whole month. I was also going to level up as a violinist, but as a young person you think of party first. Well, at least I did.

China! I mean, when am I going to have an opportunity like that? All I have to find is 1K for my plane ticket and then have a blast for a month. I explained the opportunity to my parents and what an incredible “learning” experience I was going to miss if I didn’t go. They helped me sell my car and with the money I booked my flight.

After the trip I was going to have China forever.

We did go to the great wall, but at the time I didn’t really take it seriously. I regret it.

In China we played in beautiful concert halls and some of the biggest and also smallest cities. I have many memories of China, here are two:

1. I remember how one of the percussionists went through security with a lighter hidden in his shoe. Nobody noticed it. He just went by through security like a clean man, no beeps, no alarms, no nothing. All clear. Holy crap! That meant my airplane could be full of people with lighters. I felt unsafe.

Some girls from the orchestra also argued about needing their shampoos and creams/liquids and even though they carried way more than what’s allowed, the Chinese say YES after you argue with them for 2 minutes. You confront them a little and they yield.

2. One night in the middle of the tour I got called by the orchestra manager. I knew what it was all about. “Meet me downstairs in 5” he said through the phone. I did.

“What happened today?” he asked.

“I know,” I replied avoiding eye contact, “I misunderstood the schedule and I have no excuse for you. I know I messed up badly.”

I’ve arrived 20 minutes late to the concert. He lectured me and I took it without defending myself, I knew it was my fault. I promised him I’d be more careful. It didn’t happen anymore.

China opened my eyes to things. I saw how someone bought puppies for dinner and how they looked at blond girls (from the orchestra) like they were gods. The pollution, the people and the culture makes you feel on a different planet—you basically are if you come from the Americas. But being able to see it with your own eyes, right there, live, means you will return back home as a different person. You’d seen a different part of the world. You’d seen different people and lived with them for a bit. In my opinion that’s the coolest way to grow as a person, even if I have to sell my car to make it happen; or even if I have to save 1$ everyday for 3 or 4 years. The experience will make you a bigger person—and you’ll have amazing stories to tell.

South Dakota— I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for 3 years and loved every second there. Those 3 years were full of learning, growing up, adventures and incredible opportunities. One of the top adventures I had was when an orchestra in Colorado invited us to play a gig. We played this gig a couple of times a year so we planned the adventure carefully.

Instead of driving to Colorado the day of the rehearsal, we left the day before and made a detour. Mount Rushmore! That’s a 15 hours drive from our apartment in Albuquerque. We filled the cooler with red bull (very healthy) and followed our GPS for what seemed like an endless drive.

When we arrived we forgot about tiredness and sleep, you get pumped when you’re about to cross out something from your bucket list. After a couple of hours and a lot of pictures it was time to realize that red bull was not doing its work anymore. We slept in a motel from 1pm to 11pm and at that time headed back to Colorado for our gig; super stressful but so worth it.

You see, once you do things like that you can’t go back. You want more. That’s the reason a became a travel addict, even if I have to take red eye flights or crazy buses or not sleep or eat good food for a while—you want the adventure and stories to tell your grandkids, I guess.

Anyway, if you’ve never taken a crazy trip before give it a try. Save money for a Carnegie Hall performance and explore the city of NY. Stay in hostels if you have to; bid on Priceline (hotels and flights). Read about travel hacking and forget about being comfortable at home. When you get uncomfortable on the road, amazing things happen—in the end you’ll be glad.

Classical Musicians and Multiple Incomes

Right after college my goal was to be the best in the world. Perhaps make it into the Berlin Phil.

But then I experienced reality. It was going to take more than hard work to make it into my favorite orchestra.

After college things started looking a bit scary—I was not going to be famous as I planned. Out there is tougher than I thought.

In the end, playing the Tchaikovsky concerto very beautifully cannot prepare you to earn real money outside the conservatory doors—you need to know the business of music, and they don’t teach you that in school.

After reading blogs, magazines and books related to entrepreneurship and music business, I decided to become a complete musician.

I was going to use all my knowledge in music to make money. It’s the only way I understand I could make a living. Since 100 violinists for 1 position will be nearly impossible to beat, I will realistically earn multiple incomes to make my living.

1. I will teach

2. I will play with small orchestras

3. I will score small budget movies (taking a class at Berklee online)

4. I will play with anybody who needs a violinist.

5. I will organize my own concerts.

But especially, I will play the music I carry in my blood; traditional Puertorrican music.

I can proudly say that I own this music—why not make some money out of it to keep my (small but steady) sources of income.

Even though the music I make is purely instrumental, to the Germans I am someone different; my rhythms and melodies captivate them.

They are willing to buy my CD and spend an evening listening to what I have to offer.

I become a non-classical musician, for money. I “sell” myself in order to make a living; even though I trained as a classical musician (Gasp!).

I know. It was not in my plans (and perhaps not in yours either).

What I’m trying to explain is that if you are still in school, be prepared for the realistic future. You may be lucky and get the job of your dreams, but you may also not. And it’s also OK.

There are many possibilities in music and you can always make money doing what you love. If you want something really bad, don’t ever in your whole life give up. Take your multiple incomes to pay rent but keep fighting for the job you want. Compete against 100 violinists! Or 200! Keep trying indefinitely.

Just make sure you never do it for the money but only for the love of it. Be careful with fame, it’s a bitch that can take you overboard. Stay humble, stay happy and grateful for what you have and enjoy your gift of music. Even if you have multiple small incomes, you make art for a living. You are an artist. That’s enough to smile.

Classical Musician’s Health

What happens if you get sleepy in the middle of quartet rehearsal?

You get cranky and make the rehearsal atmosphere very uncomfortable.

But that’s not the biggest problem. Since your career in music is a personal quest, you need rehearsals to level up. If you get cranky and sleepy you’ll waste the opportunity.

Like in a videogame, performers go through levels and each rehearsal provides obstacles to beat. With experience points you are fully prepared for the next level. It’s how you grow as a musician.

As an undergrad I ate poorly and my sleep routine sucked. I remember teaching and performing and hoping I were sleeping instead. Sadly, I was not an inspiration to anyone, especially to my students.

One day I woke up at 3 in the morning with a bomb in my stomach. I was in so much pain. Something inside me was tired of fast food and decided to go on strike. I rushed to the hospital and they advised me to change my diet. I did it—for a week. I started eating junk food again. So irresponsible!

Thank God nothing else happened. I got lucky.

But then I moved to the United States to work on my masters in violin performance. I began reading blogs and took a special interest in personal development. I read about habits and began to try out some of the things I read. I felt healthier—immediately.

If I was going to put nine hours of stroking a day (practice, rehearsals and performances), I was going to need vitamins, sleep, and happiness in order to tackle life as a musician.

That’s my trick to work at my best level.

Try it!

Organize your sleep. Follow a schedule. Eat food that supports your schedule. Exercise. Snack properly (nuts, fruits, etc). There is so much information online; read blogs like Nerd Fitness and Zen Habits. Care about your body and your overall health. You will notice a difference right away. Great habits will improve your happiness as well. Stay on track and don’t give in to your urges. Know what’s really important and think long-term.

The results will speak for themselves.

Classical Musicians are NOT Awesome

It’s hard to find an adjective that describes your skills as a musician today. Are you awesome? Are you decent? Are you a virtuoso? Are you OK? Are you good?

The question is: what is my status?

And the answer will always be: in the middle. You don’t get an adjective; you’re just in the middle.

Growing musicians are always in the middle.

They move forward to an uncertain future while using techniques learned in the past.

Apparently, our past is all there is. The future is uncertain and the present finds you without a nice adjective to describe yourself.

Sadly, we spend too much time thinking about where we’ll be, what we’ll do and with whom—even in concerts! We think about the reviews and the overall success of an unfinished performance—while performing it.

Instead, try to focus on your hands and listen to the sound you produce. Since there is no adjective to describe what you are doing, try playing from the heart. As cliché as it sounds, try feeling the phrases and focus on the music—not the future—practice being in the present.

One day you’ll be in the future feeling the same way you feel now: unable to describe yourself with a good adjective. Chillax. There is only so much you can do now.

In the present, there is no greatness or perfection, only the satisfaction of growing.

Learn from your past and keep walking towards uncertainty.

If you find your name on the web or newspaper followed by an impressive adjective, smile and stay humble. For some you are awesome, but for yourself you are really in the middle of the runway—with an uncertain view of the future.

Your past is all there is, but your present will write your future past. Enjoy it!

50 Ways to Level up as a Classical Musician

1. Wake up early and follow a schedule.

2. Write the schedule the night before.

3. Make it a daily habit to listen to music.

4. Take an interest in the music business.

5. Subscribe to Tips or Classical Musicians.

6. Attend as many concerts as you can.

7. Help your colleagues succeed. Give them your constructive criticism.

8. Meditate.

9. Learn the basics of conducting, theory and piano.

10. Have short and long term goals.

11. Develop your own projects and ask for help (kickstarter).

12. Use YouTube as a resource.

13. Subscribe to Naxos Music Library.

14. Read The Savvy Musician, The Musician’s Way and Beyond Talent.

15. Force yourself to practice when you are supposed to—not when you feel like.

16. Your practice room is sacred; keep it clean and organized, you level up in there.

17. Grow as a person in order to grow as a musician.

18. Use imslp.org, it’s free!

19. If you can, buy scores. Then learn to study them.

20. Exchange music libraries with your friends. It’s a free resource.

21. Hunt for cheap CDs on EBay or other online auctions.

22. Learn the history of your pieces.

23. Look for style in composers.

24. Your case should have inspiring material: pictures of famous artists, family, yourself.

25. Sight read pieces or etudes in hard keys.

26. Look for harmonic structures in single line melodies.

27. When playing chamber music, listen to your colleagues.

28. Practice with metronome.

29. After long sessions go for a walk.

30. Only after an extended period of thinking—buy expensive gear.

31. Before taking a loan, try to make it happen with your own resources.

32. Become an entrepreneur.

33. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits. –Steven Pressfield

34. Warm-up before concerts.

35. Have an immediate plan should something goes wrong.

36. Balance your life between work, leisure and family.

37. Delay gratification!

38. Live a simple life. Focus on enjoying what you can do with music, not on your possessions.

39. Treat yourself like a precious object, it will make you strong. –Julia Cameron

40. Be patient. To get where you want to be, it will take long hours of work. Stay persistent.

41. Record lessons and master-classes.

42. Learn to appreciate other arts: paintings, ballet, etc.

43. Try to say something with your instrument, not just play notes.

44. Make it a mission to experience a live concert by the Berlin Philharmonic.

45. Join a dedicated community of musicians online.

46. Respect your colleagues.

47. Save money for a Carnegie Hall concert.

48. Convince 5 friends to invest in a subscription for the Digital Concert Hall.

49. If you don’t appreciate opera, then appreciate opera.

50. Become a specialist and know all about a specific composer.

How to be a Happy Musician

Teachers strive for better positions in better universities, soloists want more fame, orchestra players want better positions (in better orchestras); everybody wants more after a while. It’s called ambition.

Ambitious can be malicious and benign. The malicious side can devour your happiness by making you NEED bigger audiences, bigger paychecks, fans and approval. If you don’t actually have these things you won’t be satisfied, you won’t be happy. As you try to get more fans or whatever it is you want more of, you’ll be miserable.

You’ll be miserable during the process.

I’m not saying musicians shouldn’t strive for bigger goals or higher paychecks. Yes, ambition can be benign as well. It’s not bad thing to think about the future; it’s a bad thing to forget about the now, the present. It’s a bad thing to forget you can also be happy NOW, during the process to acquire what you want.

Realize this! Nobody, absolutely nobody in this world, no musician or artist or anybody outside the field of music, is completely happy with what they do after months of pursuing it. It gets old. People want fresh new things.

You, too, want more. I want more after a while.

So how do we find a balance between ambition and accepting the NOW?

1. From time to time separate a few hours to live in the moment. Think of nothing else but what you have achieved to this today, the things you may be taking for granted.

 

2. Be grateful every day, for what you have and what you look forward to have.

 

3. Do not stop being ambitious, it’s healthy. An ambitious musician is on the look for new experiences, new ways of doing the old job. She strives for hard things and therefore finds solutions. She becomes an entrepreneur.

 

4. Entrepreneurs live the right balance between ambition and happiness—become one!

 

5. Be aware of your feelings and behaviors. Not necessarily react to them, just know they are there.

 

6. Think, think, think and overanalyze. Come to your own conclusions.

 

More on the subject: Ambition: Aim High, Stay Happy and The Joy of Being Alive

8 Rituals for Classical Musicians: Getting Ready to Practice

1. Clear your path.

 

- Make it a ritual to take 5-10 minutes before your session to do a bladder check, eat a healthy snack, drink a glass of water and cover all your human needs. Your session is sacred. Interruption would kill the atmosphere of you practice session; clear your path!

2. Gather your sheet music, pencils, stands and accessories before you begin.

– Everything must be ready to be used: rosin, sharpener, oils, etc. Turn your phone off and lock your door. The work of an artist is holy and should be respected the same way people respect other professionals. Practice is our job.

3. Do your research.

 

- Google the story of the piece you are working on. Listen to the top recordings and analyze different interpretations. Listen to interviews, read about the composer, and use YouTube to hear less famous performers. Get the Urtext version and/or find the manuscript if possible. Immerse yourself in the piece and try to beat boredom; find new ways to keep it fresh.

4. How about style?

 

- Finding the style and appropriate character of a piece may be as challenging as building technique. Find out similarities between works by the same composer: unique articulations, harmonies, etc. Make it a ritual to listen to your concertos and pieces regularly.

5. Enter the focus house.

 

- Once you actually sit down, you want to enter a dimension where you do your best job—inside the focus house. Start by closing your eyes and take at least 3 minutes to settle down and enter this dimension.

6. If you lose your focus…

- This ritual can be easily done if you feel your present state; your muscles as you stroke, your breath. Hear the sound you produce as you practice. Every time you think about pizza, imagine it inside a cloud and blow it away. You are you and you are studying now.

7. Physical Strength.

- In order to play Paganini’s 24 caprices one after the other, you’ll need endurance. If you get tired in the middle of a performance intonation will start to fail, precision begins to melt away. Not only do we need mental concentration to play the caprices musically, but also the muscles to stroke for over an hour. Make it a ritual to exercise every day.

8. A healthy life style will get you closer to perfection.

- If you want to play Bach in style, play all the notes in the Barber and cry Tchaikovsky’s melodies through your instrument, you need to be fit.

It all starts by creating healthy habits and having a healthy body. A healthy body thinks smarter, stays focused longer, analyzes better and reaches the next performing level faster and easier.

You are your body, it’s your first instrument; why kill it with vices and unhealthy habits? Smart living is a choice. It’s also a sacrifice. But why not go through the effort if it will be 100% reflected on stage?

I nominate you to accept the challenge!

Success is none of your business

“Success is none of your business,” says Mrs. Goldberg in her book Long Quiet Highway. “You must write (in our case practice) because it’s in your nature; it’s something you cannot live without doing.”

Art is not about end results/success. Art is about the process.

Here’s what I think about the quote:

1. Musicians CAN be successful without big results. When you level up one tiny bit, you are immediately successful.

2. Your focus should be on creating good art—not money, not power, not fame. You entered the field to create beautifulness.

3. Stay ambitious and competitive on a personal level. It’s hard to keep trying to beat your best record, but that’s how you’ll level up—not by competing with your peers. The race is against yourself.

4. One day be an artist and level up for the love of art, the next day be an ambitious musician and level up to reach your personal goals (for results!). Always find a balance.

5. Realize that results are none of your business, and that, no matter what, you’ll be playing your instrument tomorrow; even if you never get to play at Carnegie Hall, even if you never get a job with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

6. If you take your time you’ll be successful; but again, who cares? Success is none of your business.

7. Show up every day. Make a schedule before you start your day.

If you must take one thing about this post, let it be the importance of consistent work. Remember that quality goes in front of quantity but CONSISTENCY will give you the results/success you are after.

Work for success, then relax and enjoy your craft. This will bring happiness, focus, discipline and purpose to your musician life; which in fact will help you find…success. But who cares, right?

Classical Musician’s Priorities

“We found a bomb,” yelled the policeman in German through speakers, “you must evacuate immediately.” Not getting a word of what he said but preoccupied by his tone of voice, I looked out of the window and saw my neighbor running. Another look revealed her teenage daughter crying.

Holy Crap! Something is not good here.

I ran to my wife and told her what I saw, then she overheard the words bomb and evacuate; the police kept repeating the same message. We had around 30 seconds (or so it seemed) to pick something and leave the house; perhaps to never see it again. I could only think of my violin and my passport. I mean what else, right?

Guys don’t be like me. Have a plan!

In an emergency you are not going to have time to think, only to react.

Plan those reactions. With work, money and time you should be able to get pretty much anything you want back, even a new instrument. Everything that’s not you or your family is replaceable, leave it behind.

Yes, it will be hard to start over, and it will be hard to see all those years of work destroyed.

But at least you have the possibility to recover.

Life is difficult, begins The Road Less Traveled, and that’s why you must be prepared to identify your most important possession—the things you cannot get with work or money—your wife, your parents, your health.

Afterwards, mourn your losses; because you MUST in order to heal. If your 50,000 dollar clarinet was killed by an earthquake, by all means, yell, cry, mourn it. Keep in mind that you can get another clarinet—of course, there is sentiment and a special something in the old one, but still—your family is there, your people didn’t die; only your instrument did. A replaceable, yet hard to admit, object.

In my case, I had time to grab my violin since it was going to take long hours to evacuate the whole village (still not an excuse to not have a plan). The bomb was from World War II and someone found it while working on their garden.

You cannot plan much when it comes to emergencies but you can set your priorities. People, feelings and love should go over everything else. You are the musician, you are the one with the skills; you are the important one—not that piece of wood. Take care of yourself.

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