Judgment, Trust, and Classical Musicians

Shoes off and hand luggage ready to be scanned, I went quickly through security. Thirty seconds later my backpack reached the x-rays and the TSA agent cried out loud, “Oooohhh I think you are not going to like this,” his face expressing horror.

I know I packed my luggage and I know everything in there is legal, still, when a TSA agent says I’m not going to like that you doubt. You are not strong enough to trust what you packed. You start thinking: Did someone put a bomb on my backpack? What did I pack? I hope I don’t go to jail…

The bag was moved aside and another TSA agent approached me. “Is this your bag?” No choice, time to see what the hell’s in there. “Yes,” I said with a turning stomach. She proceeded to open my bag.

My metronome! I said relieved “I’m a professional musician and that is my metronome. I have the charger if you–”

“I know. I’m a drummer,” she said. “But you gotta admit,” She pointed to her screen, “that looks like a taser.”

I nodded not knowing how a taser looks like but wanting to get out of there. The officer showed the device to her supervisor and I headed to my terminal.

Lesson: They will judge your luggage; not only your material luggage but also your inner baggage. The things you’ve built over time like discipline and other efficient qualities.

Only you know what’s inside.

Only you know what you prepared beforehand.

Trust that you packed what you packed and nothing else. Trust your inner abilities, skills, and at times intonation. Trust that your luggage was with you the whole time and that nobody sneaked a bomb on your belongings.

As a classical musician, you own your preparation, skills, and readiness. They WILL attack with judgment but the more you trust on what you packed (or practiced) the comfier you’ll feel when the judgment comes your way.

You are you, and you know what you bring along.

Solution: Don’t judge—never. Trust your inner luggage (abilities, skills) and learn how to defend yourself from judgment. Finally, enjoy your profession—we make music for a living. Damn that’s awesome!

How to be a Grateful Classical Musician

One grandpa made an appointment with a doctor two hours away from my home town. With nine kids and a bunch of grandkids, the man asked one by one for a ride. With an army of people with your same last name you should have it covered.

Sadly, none of the +30 people could take him to the doctor. He was desperate for he couldn’t miss the appointment. He called neighbors for help; nobody seemed to care. He then called my dad in the middle of the week but he couldn’t either. My dad told him that I was free and maybe could give him a ride.

You’re telling me NOBODY could take the day off for the well-being of their dad/grandpa? Lazy asses! Why me? A little annoyed, I agreed to drive him. We drove far south and soon felt comfortable to say anything. He asked if I was hungry and I said yes. “So where do you want to eat?” he asked.

“Burger King,” I replied with a smile.

Grandpa was confused. He’d never set a foot in a fast-food, or so it seemed. He looked lost and surprised by the prices. We ate and I listened to his stories.

Ten years from that date, he still remembers what I did for him. He stays in touch with my grandmother and always brings up that day. The one day that no one was there but an unrelated boy.

The day I helped satisfy someone’s need, someone’s suffering.

Last week’s post was about people needing people to succeed. And even though this grandpa may never help me get a concertmaster chair in any orchestra, who knows what the future could bring. He will definitely not forget that day, and if there is the slightest chance for him to help me, I’m sure he will.

This post is about being grateful, not about being the hero. You may think I wrote this story to portrait myself as the most thoughtful guy in the world, but my intention is for you to learn from grandpa—not me. The old guy was grateful, and he was not afraid to ask for help; remember?

People need people to succeed.

Sometimes it can be so easy to help others, but just because it’s still an inconvenient we say NO.

Get out of your comfort zone. Help your fellow humans. If you must ask for help, don’t hesitate. Accept it and don’t forget what they did for you. Try to repay it; either to the same person or someone else. It’s good karma working on your favor.

It will never be comfortable—the same way it never is to show up in the practice room, or right a blog post. Who knows? One of the people you help in your lifetime may give you something, out of gratefulness, you wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Believe it or not, that may be a concertmaster chair.

I believe it can be possible.

Sexy Musicians

Soloists are sexy because of their power, their status. But they wouldn’t have reached that level without the help of others. People need people to advance in their life quests and if you learn how to make friends and influence people, you’ll obtain the authority to reach your desired level/status.

They will welcome you because you are at their level. In other words, keep auditing, keep trying; it only takes one YES to level up; and when you do, you will have minds like yours at your disposal—prettier people.

Sexy can be seen from different perspectives. There’s the outer beauty but also the beauty of habits and attitudes that escort you to your desired category.

To remain in this category or to keep moving up, you must give a hand to people in lower levels—help them level up. Impress them with your kindness. Be the exception to the rule and break the status quo. You are different. You care about the development of your colleagues.

Caring and helping lower levels WILL send you on a skyrocket to your next personal level.

There is nothing sexier than having a level 10 help someone at level 5 (ahem, teach!).

Being a sexy musician is sharing your charm and knowledge with lower levels.

It’s not only a good act, but also a fast-pass to your next level. Sexy musicians grow as a person as well; it’s what makes us unique.

Golden Musicians

Golden musicians have experience, knowledge and expertise. They know what is to be regular—not “made of gold”—because they were not always golden. Because some of them have lived twice as much as we have, they know what’s expecting us down the road—and how to solve future conflicts. So, in a way golden musicians can predict the future for us.

Advice from these masters should not be taken for granted. To experience a master-class by the old guys, the grandfathers and grandmothers with positions in the top orchestras of the world, is to listen to pure wisdom.

They’ve lived it all. And you want their knowledge working on your side; supporting your music career.

We musicians go through more or less the same situations over a lifetime: failures, successes, agony, sadness, let downs, financial problems, intonation problems :), search for happiness, fear, etc.

In order to alleviate the pain of these sufferings, accept the present. Do not conform but accept it, welcome it. See it like a workshop; Mrs. Life enrolled you for free. Think about the relationship between “Golden Musicians” and Mrs. Life. It has strengthened over the last few decades. Precisely because they accepted Life and didn’t conform, “Golden Musicians” learned all of her secrets; to share with us not golden.

With this post I want to bring awareness. When you interact with a “Golden Musician” or a senior citizen, be present. Listen to their stories, even if you don’t plan to be part of World War 3. It WILL level up your life with invaluable advice. Learn from their human mistakes and perhaps you could avoid some of the pitfalls down the road. If you do get to talk to a “Golden Musician” listen with an open mind, and enjoy each second. It doesn’t get better than that.

Mourn Your Failures

Even though her car doesn’t have brakes (only a gas pedal), the steering wheel is in the passenger seat—your seat—you control the destination.

Still, Life is unfair. She doesn’t give you time to think about the next turn. One wrong turn and you’ll end up somewhere different. Different is scary, unknown, and usually unpleasant at first. To avoid suffering, you have to get use to “different” as fast as you can.

Because Life is full of unknown turns, Life is about ACCEPTING CHANGE.

It’s an evolution, a process where you get to experience good and bad; death (of a family member), victory, loss, power, failure, etc.

To successfully accept change, you must mourn your losses and failures.

When a $30 E string breaks before you play a note on it, you have to mourn over it; feel it in your heart, it hurts, yes, it’s supposed to—because it is unfair.

Life is unfair.

The string went from new to broken in one second, and you couldn’t avoid it. It still hurts because your dollars don’t grow in your backyard. Think about your loss, hate life for a second, understand how unfair it was and grouch; mourn your loss. But accept the change.

Life won’t stay the way you know it or like it; Life will continuously change. Spend a week accepting that you lost that audition, cry, suffer, get it out— it will end. And you’ll be on your feet sooner than you expect. Mourn your rejection letters. Mourn your mistakes, they are just human moves—it’s part of riding the car of Life.

I recently took 3 days to digest some shocking news. It felt like if Life were eating my heart one bite at the time. But after the second day it started to move away, slowly, probably because I couldn’t think about anything else for those two days. I wanted to avoid thinking about it because it’s easier on my chest; but, remember last week’s post? Delay Gratification.

It’s better to mourn your loss for a week, than have it haunt you 30 minutes a day for a year.

Your time is valuable and you should be as healthy as you can so you can put in your hours in the practice room.

It’s about making the best out of the sucky part of life. It’s about suffering less, living smarter and becoming the best musician you can become.

Mourn your failures and keep moving the steering wheel—you’ll end up somewhere. Learn and move along Life, you have no choice.

Gratification, Effort and Musicians

Gratification

Gratification will always knock at your door. She will stand near you and make her best offer—take it now or tell her to come back and bring more goodies.

If you decide to hang out with Gratification NOW she’ll give you a little comfort, yes, but if you wait six months, she may come with a CD or a book with your name on the cover.

Oh, that’s not all she could be bringing; if you wait a year she may bring an impeccable performance of a concerto or a nice amount of cash in your savings account.

Here’s the catch: Gratification will keep showing up every day and you have to keep telling her to beat it.

Not easy.

As the days go by, Gratification will keep gathering what you’ve earned day by day and waive it in your face; it will look like a lot (especially when you are tired), but you can’t accept it until you see your name on the cover. Chances are that if you hang out with her husband long enough, you’ll be able to do it easily.

 

Mr. Effort

Mr. Effort is the husband of Gratification and he’s a badass. Effort inspires you to do the work while collecting your earnings; he then gives it to his wife so she can go tempt you.

Effort knows his job, and that is to push you into the uncomfortable—like practicing. He frowns when you take a break because he knows that if he loses his guard, he may lose you to his wife.

You don’t want to be with his wife, yet. Trust me.

It’s better to collect your earnings at the end of the week, month or year—not in the middle. Stick to a date and become Effort’s best buddy, even though he’s a grouchy badass. It’s the only way to avoid Gratification’s temptation.

Musicians

Here are a couple of things I’ve learned from the couple:

· Saying NO is as important as saying YES, you just have to know when and where is appropriate to say it.

· Stay focus on your work and consider their help.

· Keep your distance but build a relationship with them.

· Embrace hard times and see them as personal growth.

· Help the couple keep their unity and peace and when it’s time to collect from Gratification, smile and enjoy the benefits—you’ve earn it.

· Delay gratification, delay the collection of earnings.

· Try to enjoy the process (not the destination) with Mr. Effort.

There is not a perfect way to start a project, a concerto or a book. You just have to jump in and make mistakes. We’re all in the same boat, persist, remain there and stay put—because you WILL make it happen.

 

For the Empire,

CESAR AVILES

Dvorak’s Tomb; A Prague Adventure

dvorak cesarAfter a bunch of trains and buses and more than 12 hours traveling one way, I reached the Czech Republic. There, I had four minutes alone with HIS tomb—just me and Dvorak.

Time stopped.

Planet Earth is so freaking big and yet I stood within a couple of feet from Dvorak’s grave, just me and Dvorak for four minutes before someone else interrupts to take a picture.

I smiled, like a kid in front of Magic Kingdom. It was surreal, magical, and unforgettable.

 

I had four minutes with Dvorak.

That’s the kind of thing I get from traveling. The simplicity of surviving out of a backpack and the challenge of taking the worse schedules and buses, just to save money, reminds me of my mission.

What mission?

…to grow as a person and musician; to discover new countries, to leave my comfort zone, to understand the music from other places, to give a quarter to a local street musician.

My mission is to learn, grow and bring something home; not only souvenirs but hopefully knowledge.

I want to learn how others live life and find happiness; how they survive the same life I survive.

As a travel freak, visiting Dvorak’s tomb may have opened a new hobby: to visit composer’s graves. I will spend countless hours behind my computer researching the cheapest way to make it happen—and that will probably included buses that make me dizzy and turn my stomach crazy.

Who knows… Maybe my next trip takes me to Vienna, I’m sure Mozart and Beethoven are anxiously waiting for me. Ahhh! I love to dream about new places.

The thing about adventure is that you don’t know HOW it will change you or in what direction is going to send you. All you know is that you won’t be the same afterwards—that’s the addictive rush I love so much.

This kind of travel is difficult and uncomfortable (because it’s cheap) and that’s exactly what turns me (and you) into a simple and compassionate musician.

Say yes to adventure, and tell me your story. I’m sure I’m not the only musician who’s into budget traveling and adventure.

 

For the Empire,

CESAR AVILES

I Got Paid to Play Notes and Rhythms

We were the last stand of the 2nd violins, something you wouldn’t normally be proud of; but I really was. My partner and I were extras/substitutes of a great orchestra. I felt proud, awesome and successful.

We played the notes and rhythms Mahler wrote for us and rehearsed one of the hits of the orchestral literature. The lucky guys in the last stand were doing what they were hired for: playing notes and rhythms.

Nobody told us to study the composer; as long as we played together with the section, we were going to be fine (and paid).

In other words: Notes and Rhythms = a nice check.

Nice gig if you can get it, right?

I could’ve sat down and study the major recordings of the work and contribute my 1% to the ensemble.

But was it worth going through the trouble?

YES! Because playing notes and rhythms will get me a check, but contributing my 1% will level up my spiritual growth.

I certainly didn’t enter this field to play notes and rhythms alone—the joy is in being better than notes and rhythms. The joy stands within in the details.

Music is often a status. If you play with that orchestra, even if you play the last chair, you are someone. You can walk with your head high up, no humbleness, and it will be socially allowed.

But! Is that what you want as a musician? Recognition, money and status?

My dearest colleague, music is about feelings, stories, backgrounds, experiences, sadness, triumph, magic, sarcasm, fiction and reality; not about notes and rhythms.

Give your 1%, even if it seems insignificant, it’s not. That is your percentage and your responsibility. And even if your friends and family don’t notice a difference in the performance, you are leveling up: spiritually, as a person and as a classical musician.

For the Empire!

CESAR AVILES

Musicians Need to be Reminded

It’s why you read this blog, right? No matter how many times I write about procrastination, if we don’t keep reminding ourselves how strong its power is, procrastination will affect our work.

It’s easier to leave your cello packed. It’s easier not to do the work.

I’ve read so many books on personal-development, performance, practice and business and still today I didn’t feel like writing, or practicing, or working at all.

I know what to do, I just don’t feel like doing it.

We need to be reminded, preferably every day.

We have to read blog posts and be reminded. We have to spend time thinking to remind ourselves.

We have to take action in order to take action.

That’s because Resistance is such a bitch that if you get off her back, she will attack—and the work will stay undone.

Musicians need to be reminded that staying on track requires fighting a never-ending battle.

Musicians need to be reminded to keep track of what keeps them going.

Musicians need to be reminded that today and now is the time to take action—no matter how they feel.

In order to keep leveling up as a person and musician, we need to be reminded of those good habits we already practice and know. Otherwise we’ll forget and things will go south.

I’m here to remind you that there is no finish line, only an infinite journey.

I’m here to remind you that you can only take it one step at a time.

Thanks for reading TCM, and for letting me remind you! :)

For the Empire!

CESAR AVILES

My Colleague is a Street Musician

On my way back to the airport, I enjoy the silence of a serious crowd and the soft clamor of the train rails.

The train stops and people come in, including my colleague. Everyone’s peace is sent to hell when my colleague enters the train.

My colleague has a crystal eye and an accordion.

Wearing shorts, my colleague gets ready to play what he’d practiced.

He is expecting money, of course, the same way I do when I play Latin-American music or join an orchestra to play Beethoven’s 5th.

He kindly introduces himself to the solemn crowd and everyone understands what’s about to happen; loud, unprofessional noises for the rest of the trip followed by, “Do you have a quarter?”

My colleague plays ten to fifteen minutes before we get to the airport. And I start asking myself “He is my colleague, isn’t he?”

He does what I do; play music for people. He is my colleague.

 

It only takes an open mind to find good art.

My colleague puts heart and soul (you could see it in his face) the same way we “professional performers” go on stage and expose our work.

And yet he never had a music lesson—talk about talent!

He even plays in style his folkloric music; bad technique, yes, but who cares?

Nobody wants to listen to him anyway. Sadly, not even myself.

But my colleague has something to teach us “trained” musicians.

He doesn’t understand the concept of stage fright; he’s not scared to be there, to play for an audience.

He dismisses those who do not want to hear/appreciate him and looks forward to that one person, the one who is going to give him that quarter.

Believe it or not, we can learn from our colleague who didn’t major in music. Here’s what I got:

1. Build your confidence by performing frequently.

2. Ignore who’s judging the performance.

3. Play for those who want to listen.

4. Believe in your product.

5. Persevere.

Above all, the one thing I regret the most is not being the guy with the quarter.

How to be Lucky

My high school friends play basketball to have a good time; they get together at the county court and rehearse the moves of those they admire. For them, NBA players are just lucky to play in that league.

But what does luckier mean?

Does lucky means waking up thinking about technique and how to improve their skills? Because that’s what these pros do.

There is a hidden side amateurs don’t see; the exposure and the pressure professional players deal with on the court. I guess luckier means then dealing with failure, the stats, the sour scratching in your heart when your team is eliminated.

Professionals are on a mission.

You are not lucky until you enroll on a personal mission. You are not lucky until you train many hours a day—consistently every day for months and still be devoted to the game.

This post is not about luck, but about love and sacrifice. It’s about a career in music; it’s about your personal mission.

This post is about the love for the game.

 

A Classical Musician’s Battlefield

I am more serious, quiet and restless. The symptoms are coming back and I feel like I’m about to graduate; my soul tickles and expects the unusual event. It’ll be a big day, an uncertain day, an important one.

Every time I set a date, every time I say I will deliver a product by a specific date, I have no choice but to keep a strict schedule and put in the hours. Hell will break loose but that’s exactly the school I need to move one step ahead in life.

I’ve been expecting next Wednesday for a whole month and as the date gets closer, my thoughts on quitting come more often, they are coming now every half hour. I don’t feel ready; I never have, at least for the last two years. Can it be possible that one never feels ready?

The truth is that I don’t know if I want to succeed in this audition, I’m only doing it to prove I can compete again. After a long break (I was frustrated with my other nine failures—yes, I am counting them), it was time to prove I am not out of the game. I’m a passionate man with a strong heart: except when you combine hundreds of hours of practice for auditions that seem impossible to win and start a new language and try to survive a new culture and twenty-one projects developing in your head. I was broken and needed my long break. But now I am healed and I am back!

I learned many things during my break, one of them being: I am happy with my life. The really extremely incredibly horribly challenging past is now over, I am settled. I have a teaching job with enough vacation time to travel often (my favorite hobby). I am happy with the “free” time I have to study the pieces I always wanted to play, the concertos I love and the solo violin pieces I couldn’t prepare during my school days. With a full-time job in orchestra I couldn’t do all that travel and practice. But I also love playing in orchestra. It’s a never ending dilemma.

In four days I will be playing my 10th audition, a long journey since my first one. With ups and downs I’m still standing, shaking and a little unstable, but standing. Time is modifying my goals and my career is taking me in different directions; my passions convince me of different routes and confusion plays its part.

The answers keep coming with every second on the battlefield and I am happy with my development. I guess the more you fight, the more you like the battlefield. Because only there, in the battlefield, can you make things happen. I’m glad to be back out there contributing with great art.

Musicians and Mental Preparation

Technique and musicality play a big role in your preparation—but what about mental preparation? Things like: What are they thinking about me? What if I ruin the scale in the second page?

Would you stay concentrated?

Mental preparation is equally important to find success (in music and in life). Being prepared for what’s to come is vital, for what if your house burns down? What if you pop a string in the middle of the concert? Do know what to do in such an event?

In the practice room, picture yourself succeeding on stage and practice with different feelings in mind. In life, get a good insurance and prepare for the worse. Even though the worst thing that can happen rarely does, nobody is ever over prepared.

It’s all about strategy and preparation, that’s what success is all about.

Are you a Musician or an Artist?

One thing is to imagine you are at Disney World, but being there is something else.

One thing is saying you’ll take a pilgrim’s journey, but walking it is something else.

One thing is to write a song, but publishing it is something else.

One thing is to love, but to love unconditionally is something else.

One thing is hard work, but to work hard in a passionate way is something else.

One thing is being a musician, but being an artist is something else.

One thing is to go on a walk, but to go on an adventure is something else.

One thing is to be ashamed, but to be proud of your mistakes is something else.

One thing is happiness, but to embrace it is something else.

Our lives can level up if we switch off the autopilot and think for a minute. The difference in effort between average and outstanding is sometimes very little—it may take one minute and one decision.

How to Build a Concerto or a Snowman

The Workout

In the beginning it’s all physical, you learn how to get the sound out of the instrument. Notes and rhythms make the body of the snowman and along with the body, you have to build muscle to stay healthy and strong for 30-40 minutes of stroking.

Build strength over the firsts weeks and don’t rush the process of learning your notes—it’s the pedestal of the snowman.

 

Analysis

Once you know your notes, you analyze them. I love this phase. It’s not anymore about building muscle to last forty minutes; now it’s about what’s behind the piece. Why did Tchaikovsky wrote this concerto? What is my role here and what should be emphasized? It’s about getting to know the composer and his style; it’s about figuring out how the hell I play this like a pro?

After a while (many weeks), you begin to connect technique and mechanical movements with your analysis. You start playing your accents correctly and bringing up a note or a line. Notes, rhythms, dynamics and YOUR analysis become on entity.

 

Emotion/Feeling

In this phase, you connect music with emotions. A sad line brings a sad picture and sad emotions, and when you submerge in this feeling, you’ll be in the emotional state and in sync with your phrase.

The pieces of your puzzle start blending together. Technique, analysis and emotion were worked separately and then attached to become one idea. Time allowed the information to engrave in your brain after weeks and months of practicing, and together with experience things will hold on tight. Remember that patience is a virtue.

 

The Artist’s View

You’ve worked intensely on your snowman and are tempted to slow down your pace, but if you do it will melt, you have to keep going. You have to keep an open eye to catch whatever details melt in the middle. If you catch your pinky not moving as fast as it should in the middle of a fast passage, schedule time to work on it. Basically, go back to the mechanical/physical stage. But not for long, just put the melted water in the freezer an hour or so and stick it back on the snowman.

Once it all holds more or less together for long periods of time, you are free to shape your final product and make it even prettier. How? You paint your masterpiece with colors and dynamics at a much deeper level. The snowman is in front of you, refined and almost alive. It took months of hard, super hard work, but you are now an artist. Calmly, chop off weird corners and make its surface even. At this stage the snowman is a concrete reality, but you cannot stop working on itthere will always be some tiny corner to fix. That’s the reality of a job in the performing arts.

 

Delivery

You prepared your best work, congrats. You must ship it. Play your concert, make your product public. Deliver it with pride, because you almost quitted in the middle, you almost couldn’t hold it together as it melted too quickly, but today it is standing. And you made that happen!

The thing stands alone and you are the creator. Enjoy it man! There will always be better creations than yours and there will always be criticism, yes, but there are only a limited number of your own personal creations, and the snowman is one of them. The amazing and abominable snowman is your gift to the world. Love it, admire it and promote it.

 

Repeat

It may seem overwhelming to start building another piece from scratch (another snowman). But think about it, what else did you come to this world for? You came to build snowmen right? Enjoy building each part of them. It turns out building a snowman teaches you about life, about yourself and about the abstract component of being alive. The older you get the more snowmen you’ll have on record and the slowest they will melt. I’m glad I create art for a living.

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