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My Social Distancing

Hi guys, I hope everyone is doing well during this weird time.  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding that I all of the sudden have way more time than we had anticipated in the next few weeks.  

So before this virus thing happened and completely shut down the world, my plate was rather full.  At work, I am the unit leader for the woodwind quintet which takes up a lot of time, I am also in charge of the public affairs office at the band, and on top of those two major things, the navy band in D.C. recently announced another audition to be held in May.  Outside of work, I was busy with my family, and also working one night a week at Cox High School here in Virginia Beach teaching woodwinds.  When I had time, I was working on my next blog post, breaking down the excerpt from Samuel Barber’s “School for Scandal” overture that has been so popular lately for military band auditions.  I have done lots of research, so I will post about it eventually.  Unfortunately (I never thought I would say that), the excerpt is not on the upcoming Navy Band audition, so it has been put to the side for now.

Fast forward to now, and its pretty amazing how fast things change.  Within just a few days, literally everything I had coming up in the next two months was cancelled or postponed, and I started working mostly from home.  Although I am working from home, a lot of the public affairs projects I had planned were contingent on things that have been cancelled or postponed! And no rehearsals either, so I find that I have a lot more time for practicing (and blogging!) I have spent the last few weeks starting preparation for the (now postponed) Navy Band audition.  I find myself in a weird place that I’ve never been before…I started going all in preparing for an audition and now its on hold indefinitely.  I don’t know the new audition date.  Will the rep stay the same?  Not sure.  Best thing I can do is try to keep practicing, and hopefully when things return to normal I can pick up where I left off.  

I’m a super planner when it comes to auditions.  I’m not going to go into too many details about what I do because I’ve covered this in a previous post about audition planning.  I basically still do the same thing as I posted back in 2014, and I go a little crazy with the spreadsheets now (you can check out my google sheets file if you want to here).  I was still in the first phase of audition prep when all this Coronavirus stuff went down.  So I’ve introduced a 4th phase…postponement.  

Basically, now until the audition has an actual date again, I’ll be in this “postponement” phase.  I wanted to create a routine that didn’t take too much time out of my practice session and at the same time kept me familiar with the audition rep.  So I divided up the excerpts into 4 groups, based on difficulty/priority:

One group per day rotation, with some low priority excerpt rotation within that. The three excerpts on the bottom weren’t even in my rotation for the first phase, but I decided to just add them in for good measure just in case, even if its just listening. The plan for most excerpts is to play each one once at 75% tempo, once at half tempo, and then mental run through at the marked tempo. Thats it! And if you’re wondering about the A clarinet thing…I rotate my warmups on different instruments.  One day I’ll warm up on Bb, next day on A, etc.  I am actually rotating through four instruments right now: two A/Bb sets (one is my personal, and one is the Navy’s). This way I’m used to playing on all instruments.  I’m still not sure what instruments I’ll end up playing on for the audition. So that’s what I’m doing right now.

This will create some time for me to work on other things, like woodwind quintet music!  We have an amazing group of musicians in the group right now, so we are pushing the boundaries of what we can do, difficulty wise.  I’m hoping that the band sends us out on tour in the near future!  But who knows what the next weeks or months will bring.  We aren’t rehearsing right now because of the virus.  Best thing we can do is practice our parts safely in our own homes!

Also, I’ve been wanting to post short videos of my practicing for awhile, mostly for my own accountability but I think others would benefit from it also.  I really like Instagram, but didn’t want to flood my own IG account with clarinet videos or switch it to a public account, so that’s been the only thing that’s been stopping me.  I thought about uploading stuff to YouTube, but I prefer the simplicity and accessibility of IG.  I also am not interested in posting anything longer than a minute or two.  

Well, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but I just created a new IG account just for my clarinet posts!  So please follow me, my username is sandytheclarinerd.  I’ll try to post daily, and I’ll embed videos on here when I post a blog.

That’s my update for now! I hope everyone is socially distancing themselves so we can get through this phase in our lives quickly. Although its fun working from home and everything right now, it’s probably going to get old pretty fast. I hope things can return to normal soon!

2019 year in review, decade in review, and what’s coming in 2020

So here we are again at the end of one year and the start of another.  I can’t help looking back at 2019 and reflecting on what I accomplished this year. 2019 was a year of transition for me and my family and trying to adjust to a new home thousands of miles away from where we had spent the last four years proved difficult. I really had a hard time moving from Hawaii. It is such a special place for me and I definitely left a piece of my heart there.

My last sunset in Hawaii. December 21, 2018

Its also 2019, which means we’re about to transition into a new decade. I actually started this blog at the brink of the last decade in 2009, documenting my struggles of trying to “make it” as a clarinetist. Seems like so long ago and also not that long ago all at the same time. I guess that’s what happens when we become adults!

So let’s take a quick look back. Things were so different for me and my family in 2009. Back then, I was still pretty fresh off my masters degree from Eastman, and still living in Rochester in our cute little house in the South Wedge.  I still miss that neighborhood! I had landed a job as a secretary at the University of Rochester Hospital, working 9-5 to make ends meet and trying to practice and take auditions in my off-time.  I was so lucky; I had a very supportive employer who allowed me to take the time off I needed for those auditions!  I was also so young! I was still in my mid-20s and my husband and I were still fairly new at the marriage thing.  No dogs, no kids.  Man, that was the life!  Haha…

And now…I’m in my mid-thirties, a mom to a now four year old boy, and dog mom to three little fluffy chihuahuas. Still married to my husband, who has followed me around on this crazy adventure! So thankful that he’s down for whatever the Navy throws at us. I’m on my third enlistment contract with the Navy, which seems crazy but its true. We started out the decade in Rochester, moved to Virginia after joining the Navy, moved to Hawaii, and now we’re back in Virginia.

And 2019…what a weird year you were.  As mentioned earlier, we were in the process of moving from Hawaii back to Virginia. In fact, exactly one year ago we were technically homeless, but the timing of everything meant we got to spend the holidays at home in Colorado with extended family. That was probably the one positive thing about the whole move.

A year ago I was gearing myself up for the Unit Leader Course at the Naval School of Music, which was starting in January. The course turned out to be one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Eight months of 10-12 hour days, and constantly being forced out of my comfort zone.  But, I also met a bunch of amazing people through that course that I will be lifelong friends with! Now I feel like if I can get through that course, I can get through anything!

My amazing ULC class.
Really out of my comfort zone here.
World’s OK-est drum major.
A beautiful moment with my friend Patrick, and Sailor Ducky.

I was so thankful that I got orders back to the band here in Virginia, and because of that we didn’t have to pick up and move again.  Especially because my son had started a special education pre-school program here in Virginia Beach and he was really doing well, and his teacher is amazing.  We were glad we didn’t have to start over somewhere else!

10 minute walk from my house in Virginia Beach…not bad!

We were fortunate to be able to go back to Colorado in August after my graduation from the course and visit family again.  My grandmother from Brazil was visiting, so it was wonderful to spend time with her and she got to meet *another* one of her great-grandchildren.  I didn’t play clarinet for probably about a month, and when I got back and checked into the band, the Navy Band in DC had posted an audition for November.  Initially, I said no way.  Just over two months till this audition and I hadn’t even touched my horn for a month…it was more work than I initially wanted to put in.  But one of my co-workers convinced me (thanks Nicole! haha) to just go for it.  And I did.  Didn’t work out, but I learned a lot.  The audition ended up being a no-hire, so there should be another one coming fairly soon.  I’m gonna go for it.

Which leads me to my goals for 2020.  I’d like to put clarinet back to the top of the priority list, it was definitely not up there for 2019. I worked super hard for the audition this past November, and I’d like to keep that kind of motivation all year. But I need something to work towards. The D.C. band has not posted anything about the next clarinet audition yet, so I need something to drive me until that happens. I have found that if I don’t have something to work towards, I tend to get complacent and inconsistent with my practicing.  So what can I do to stay motivated?  I think its pretty clear that practice challenges don’t work for me.  If you are a follower of my blog, you know that I attempted to do a 100 day practice challenge, and then a 30 day practice challenge, and they both kind of fizzled.  

Not sure that attempting another challenge will do anything for me. I think I need to accept that I’m not a seven day a week type of practicer, and that’s ok. I think 4-5 days a week works best for me. Practicing efficiently and consistently while leaving room for other things is what works for me. Even when I was prepping for an audition, 6 days a week was a stretch.  I’m set to take over the woodwind quintet at work, and I have a really heavy collateral duty on top of that so I need to accept that sometimes sitting down in a practice room just won’t happen. 

So how about a project of some sort? I turned to thinking about creating content for this blog. Something that has been pretty universal in trying to become a clarinetist (or any classical musician in general) is EXCERPTS.  I feel like I’ve gotten really good at some of these crazy band excerpts.  I can break them down and explain the challenges and the practice techniques that I have found to work to overcome those challenges. It’ll keep me in practice for any upcoming auditions, and I’ll get to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the years.

So that’s what I’ll do this year. I’m not sure how I’ll pick the excerpts, but I’ll try to do common ones first, and then sprinkle in some wild cards…because we all know how these audition lists work.

All in all, I’m looking forward to great things in 2020!

 

 

30 Day Practice Challenge: An Update

The practice challenge is going…ok.  I’m not always motivated to put in time, and I’ll be honest I haven’t stuck to the plan of doing something clarinetty everyday.  But I’m trying to stick with it by journaling as much as I can – even if its reasons why I didn’t touch the horn.  So here you go…

Day 1 – This morning I had a parade to march and play in, plus a ceremony afterwards.  Other than that, I just made a plan for the rest of the week, and did a small (very small) amount of work on reeds.

Day 2 – Had a ceremonial band gig this morning.  Meant to get some practice/warmup prior to the gig, but ended up doing it after.  I made a note in my journal that I would not have practiced today if I weren’t motivated by this challenge!

Day 3 – Day off from work.  I had played everyday for at least two weeks, so I wanted to take a break off of playing for the day.  So I did some reed work on some crappy reeds I have just using my notes (no playing).  We will see if it works!

Day 4 – Regular day of work, no gigs/rehearsals which was nice.  I was able to get my full fundamentals routine in.  My focus was a little weird, I accidentally skipped some exercises that I routinely do.  I wondered why I was done so fast and that’s when I realized I skipped stuff.  I went back and played through the stuff I missed.  It was definitely a weird focus day.

Day 5 – Ceremonial band gig in the morning.  Aaaaaaand then I didn’t practice.  Honestly, I needed the mental break.  At least I played?

Day 6 – Today is Saturday, so normally I would not even think about clarinet.  But I told myself that I would do something each day.  So after Ben left for work, I worked on some reeds.  I have a few that I recently finished breaking in that are still really stiff and awful.  I feel like I made some improvements!  Yay!  Tomorrow I’ll try some actual practice.

Day 7 – Sunday.  Actual practice didn’t happen.  Meh.

Day 8 – Regular day of work, and I went to a yoga class during lunch.  And a full practice session, yay!  I’ve been working on a Rueff etude.  If you don’t know what that is, its one of those Frenchie Leduc books.  And freaking hard.  Anyway, I haven’t gotten much past the 2nd line, but that’s ok.  Its good for my focus.

Day 9 – Spent the morning volunteering with my coworkers at a food bank in Norfolk, and then I was somehow roped into being on the load crew to get the deployment gear off the ship, which took all afternoon.  So, needless to say not much time for clarinet.  Evening was spent working with the woodwinds at Cox High School, but I didn’t get my horn out.  At least I did something musical, right?

Day 10 – Gig in the morning, and then fundamentals routine only…at home.  Ben was sick so I had to leave work early to help him out with the little guy.

Day 11 – Day off from work.  Spent the morning at the DMV getting my drivers license renewed and then going for a swim.  I didn’t write anything down for today, and I can’t remember if I actually did anything.  Fail.

Day 12 – Saturday again.  Fundamentals routine only.  There was a parade scheduled, but we ended up getting rained out (thank goodness!).  But not after getting into uniform and making it all the way to the parade staging area before it was cancelled.

Day 13 – Here’s what I wrote down: “Fundamentals routine only at home with TV on for Oscar.  ITS FINE.”  I don’t think I was really into it.

Day 14 – Day off from work again (for Saturday).  Ended up not doing anything.  And I’m starting to get really bad about journaling now.

Day 15 – Got through my fundamentals.  Better than nothing!  I’m working on the visual portion (slideshow) for the upcoming holiday concert, so my time and energy has been devoted mostly to that, leaving less time for clarinet.

Day 16 – I was hoping I could spend just a couple hours at work and get my Thanksgiving holiday started early.  Little bit of office work, little bit of practicing.  Well, my boss had a different plan for me.  Sat at my desk until almost 1, when I absolutely had to leave to take my dog to a vet appointment at 2.  No practicing, ugh!  Bringing the horn home though.  We’ll see if anything actually happens.

Day 17 – Thanksgiving and my birthday!  Didn’t do anything.  Wasn’t planning on it either.

Day 18 – Black Friday…didn’t do anything.  Or go anywhere lol.  Ben practiced his tuba though! Does that count?

I have been super terrible about documenting what I do each day for the challenge, especially the last week.  Its so easy to just let things slide!  I have 12 more days in my challenge, and my goal is to be better about writing things down, even if its to say that I didn’t do anything.

How are you all doing with the challenge?  Only 12 more days!

 

 

Post Audition Thoughts (Again…)

Another audition, another first round cut.

I always have a hard time organizing my thoughts after an audition is over.  The worst part for me is having to recount how it went every time someone asks, “So, how’d it go?”  Not that I  think people shouldn’t ask that (and I definitely don’t blame them for asking), it’s just trying to sum up the experience in words without asking for a pity party when things don’t go well.  It’s been a couple days, so I’ve had lots of time to think and lots of time to talk about it with other people.  I’m trying to figure out how things could have been better, and where to go from here.

I’ll start with how it went.  If you know me, the biggest hurdle I’ve struggled with in the last few years is my nerves.  And it seems to have gotten worse as I get older.  When I was on the audition scene a decade ago I would get nervous, but it would never be as crippling as it has become.  I’ve had teachers and colleagues tell me, “Just make sure you are 100% prepared, and that preparation won’t fail you”.  Well, I’m going to go ahead and tell you for some people, like me, the amount of preparation doesn’t matter.  I’ve gone into auditions so, so incredibly prepared, and then I still fall on my face.  I miss things I never miss.  Do weird things I’ve never done before.  It’s because my anxiety was so crippling that I spent most of my brain power and focus trying to calm my body down, rather than focusing on executing the excerpts.

I feel like I’ve done everything so remedy my anxiety.  Visualization, breathing, etc…you name it, I’ve done it. So, at the recommendation of many colleagues and friends I went to my doctor for, you guessed it, a beta blocker.  This was my last resort.

I’ll tell you, it was a game changer.  I should have done this a long time ago!  All that physical anxiety was gone.  I didn’t have to put in any effort to try to get my body out of that “fight or flight” mode, because it never got there.  I got to focus 100% on the audition.  And as a result, I played the best audition I’ve had since before I joined the Navy and I was on the audition circuit full time.

But just because the physical anxiety was gone, doesn’t mean that that my brain wasn’t still nervous.  I still felt the pressure of the situation.  I still heard that voice that tells me I can’t do it.  Self doubt is something I still struggle with big time.  And there’s no pill that can fix that. But, because I didn’t have to put in any effort to calm my body down physically, it was so much easier to quiet that negative voice.

Anyways, time to talk about the audition itself.  My reed situation was really good (I’ve been doing a lot of reed prep!) and I had a few good reeds to choose from which was nice.  I was expecting to struggle with reeds, because the weather changed so drastically Thursday into Friday.   Like, 20 degree drop just on my drive up from Virginia Beach!  Yikes.

For the prelim round, the excerpts were Mozart, Mendelssohn Scherzo, one of the marches (Fillmore’s Man of the Hour, last strain), Verdi La Forza, and Pineapple Poll.  I was a little surprised at the selections for the first round; I thought for sure they would put Oberon on the first round.   I ended up playing everything, which is always a good sign.

I was really confident coming out of the audition.  There was no way I wasn’t getting through!  I played great.  Unfortunately, the audition panel didn’t agree.  In fact, they didn’t like anyone in my group and none of us made it through.

At first I was mad and confused.  What didn’t they like?  Were they being extra picky?  I was in the first group of the day (I was #2 in fact!) so could that have been a factor?  There’s nothing more frustrating than thinking you rocked it, when obviously there was something missing.

I had a four hour drive home to think about how it went.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was probably my Pineapple Poll that cost me the round.  It was the last excerpt in the round, and it’s rhythmically very challenging, and I don’t think I played it as perfect as they wanted.  It was always the excerpt that I got negative comments on in my mock auditions too…

But who really knows what they didn’t like.  That’s something I’ll never know.  And maybe my perspective is a little jaded by the fact that I was so happy I played an audition without totally crapping my pants – figuratively, of course.

So where do I go from here?  On Friday, I was dead set on giving up the audition game entirely.  It’s so much time, stress, and money for a bunch of disappointment, usually.  And really, the fleet is way better.  Better gigs, better travel, better duty stations.  I mean, come on, I got to live in Hawaii for four years and got to travel to other countries!  Really can’t beat that.

But there are some things that are enticing about being in the DC band…more money, and a permanent place to live (no more moving!).  Especially as my son moves into school age and starts making friends that he actually remembers, it’s going to start being really hard to pick up and move every few years.  So we’ll see if I do another audition.  I am lucky, there’s always a clarinet audition every couple years, at least.  In fact, I’m sure there will be another one while I’m here in Virginia.  I know there are some improvements I can make now that I’ve figured out the anxiety problem, like my crazy self doubt.  I guess I’ll have to play it by ear and see where I’m at the next time there’s an audition.  For now, I am just going to concentrate on my job here.  And as always, getting better at clarinet!

I started a 100 day practice challenge awhile ago, and I still have just over 25 days left.  I have a tendency to let my practice habits falter after an audition, and I’d like to avoid that!  So I think I’m going to revamp my challenge and do a 30 day practice and reed challenge.  30 days of practicing (mental practice and score study counts!) and/or reed work.  I’m not great at making videos, but I’m going to make it a goal to at least journal what I do every day and post it here.  That should bring me right to Christmas time, which is a good time for a break.

Any of my musician friends want to do the challenge with me?  I could use some accountability!  Let me know!

 

#100daypractice challenge, day…whatever

I think today is day 48, actually.  And I didn’t practice today because I was scheduled to get a filling at dental, and I didn’t want to try to play after having local anesthetic.  So I’m not doing so great at this challenge, but…

…its official, I’m taking the D.C. audition in November (uh, next month…uh, three weeks!).  I honestly didn’t need the practice challenge to keep me motivated because I had an audition date to work towards!  I am going to continue counting the days though, just because it will extend past the audition date into December, and I know I will need the motivation then!

Last week was the first week that I have felt “in the groove” with my routine.  And I got 6 days in!  Felt really good.  In fact, everything is feeling really good right now.  I hope that lasts…

I’ve spent the last 3 (or 4? don’t really know…) weeks “in the shed” with my excerpts.  Most of them I know already, but I like to start from scratch when preparing for auditions.  So that means bumping the tempo down to half, and starting from there.  I also focus on the technical excerpts, giving more time to my weaker ones, or ones that I have never played before (only one this time!).  That means lots of mind-numbing practice.  Here’s a lovely video of me working the trills this past Sunday in the Mendelssohn Scherzo:

Don’t mind the mess, the doggies curled up in various places, and the giant crayon in the corner.  And my struggle with the F to G trill.  Ha.

This week, I’ve started my “polish” phase of my audition prep.  I can play everything at tempo now, but now I need to work on smoothing things out, making it musical, things like that.  Recording is the name of the game.  My routine is to work on an excerpt, then record a performance of it.  Then I listen to the recording, figure out what can be improved, make a plan for the next practice session, and repeat.  For now I’m just using the voice memo app on my iPhone, its good enough for this purpose.  I’m also trying to practice in different environments (big room, small room, etc.) to get a feel for different sounds.

In a week or so, I’ll switch to the final phase of my audition prep, which is performance practice!  Or in other words, mock auditions.  Every. Single. Day.  Woo!  And of course any other final adjustments.  Also making sure my reed game is strong.  My reeds quite literally broke my last audition so I want to make sure that doesn’t happen this time.

For now, I’m going to ride this good practice wave that I’m on.  I hope I can keep on it for the next three weeks!

#100daypracticechallenge day 24

Today is Sunday.  Under normal circumstances, I don’t like to practice at home or on the weekends. Weekends are supposed to be time off from work, and practicing clarinet is part of my “work”.  Well, today I did practice.  At home.  On a weekend.  My goal is 6 days a week, at least during these 100 days.  On my day off, I’ll do some mental practice, score study or listen to recordings.  Normally, I find that 4 days a week is the perfect routine for me.  Enough to keep things consistent, while allowing time to do other stuff, because surprisingly, my life doesn’t always revolve around the clarinet!  But, unfortunately, it’s usually not perfect for whatever audition or concert I am preparing for.  I need to devote a little more time for things like premiere band auditions.  So six days a week it is.  Unfortunately, counting today, I only got five days this past week. Ok fine, not perfect, but I’ll take it nonetheless.

To get myself back into shape, I’ve been playing a lot of Rose etudes (of the 32 variety). So that’s what I decided to record today.  Nothing like a little Rose 32, #1!

 

 

Pay no mind to the movie playing in the background…my husband was not home so I was practicing in the living room while my son was watching TV. He even came up to me during recording and tugged on my arm wanting something haha…

I’ve also been spending the last couple of weeks getting back into playing my personal horns, rather than just my Navy issued one. I haven’t played them regularly for at least a year or two, and they do play very different, especially my A. The reason is mostly because I don’t have a good A clarinet that I can use at the band here like I did in Hawaii. So in order to match for the DC audition, personal horns it is! It’s super fun trying to remember the tendencies of each. NOT.  I recorded this video on my Bb, with my Richard Hawkins R mouthpiece.

I’ve been doing mostly the slow Rose etudes to work on endurance. I’m just super happy that I was able to get through the whole thing without my embouchure completely dying. Gotta work on that intonation though!! Yikes.

I’m back baby! Lets do a practice challenge!

Oh hello.  I’m back.  No, I did not drop off the face of the earth for two years, but I did get insanely busy and I kind of forgot that I had this blog.  In fact, I let my domain expire, and someone else picked it up for a year…weird.  Well it ended up being available again so I snapped it back up and decided to resume my blog posts.  So what has happened between now and 2017 (which was my last post)?  Well, a lot.  My family and I left Hawaii and moved back to Virginia (insert crying emoji here), and now I’m back at Fleet Forces Band.  Circle of navy band life?  Maybe.

We moved back to Virginia initially because I was accepted into the Unit Leader Course at the Naval School of Music.  Starting in January 2019, it was 8 months of cramming as much music theory, ear training, conducting, rehearsal technique, drum majoring, arranging, and leadership training as humanly possible.  Seriously, I think the curriculum was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and that’s saying a lot considering I have a MM in performance from Eastman!  I won’t go into too much detail, but I spent the last 8 months getting up at 4 am and working 10-15 hour days 5 days a week.  Mostly because I felt like I was terrible at everything and I had to devote at least some time each day to all the above subjects.  Needless to say, I’m glad it’s done.

Luckily, it just worked out that instead of picking up and moving again, the Navy sent me back to Fleet Forces Band in Norfolk.  Cool.  It’s boring for me, but really good for the family right now.  I know it sounds crazy, but uprooting and moving an entire household sucks.

After all that, I took three weeks of leave, went home to Colorado (sans instrument), and I didn’t even crack my clarinet case for almost a month.  You could say that I was out of shape!  I’ve seen a few people on social media do a 100 day practice challenge, and I figured, why not?  So here we are!

Its been 23 days since I decided to undergo the 100 day practice challenge.  But I haven’t posted anything about it since the first day…

Yeah, that first day sucked.  The following twenty-something days were mostly filled with improving my endurance and sound.  I haven’t posted anything because, well frankly I didn’t want you all to hear how terrible I sounded, haha.  But, I think I’m ready to start recording videos now, to start helping me be accountable.  I’ll probably only post them on here via YouTube, just because I don’t really want to overload my Instagram with clarinet practice videos.

I’ve started preparing for a D.C. Navy Band audition in November that I may or may not be able to take…so we’ll see where that leads me!  See you tomorrow for day 24!