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!

 

 

#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!

Clarinet Challenge 2.0

Well, unfortunately, the end of the challenge kind of fizzled out for me.  I just ran out of time and had no motivation to finish it out.  But it’s OK though, I learned a lot about audition preparation over the last 14 weeks despite being unable to finish it out.  If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I have been struggling with audition day nerves and being able to come through when it counted.  I think I’ve finally figured out some of the missing pieces.

Technical preparation, while a large part, is only just part of it.

In my mind I have always known this, but had always been a little bit in denial.  Yes, while being able to execute each excerpt effectively is very, very important, I found that recording a weekly video in one take with no re-dos for all the world to see brought one aspect to the preparation that I had been missing.  Before, I didn’t do any sort of mock auditions until only a couple weeks prior to the audition, but now I understand the benefit of doing mock performances throughout the preparation process, even when the technique isn’t quite there yet.

I learned how to visualize.  And it wasn’t how I thought it would be!

This challenge forced me to visualize, and to make visualization work for me.  I learned pretty quickly that visualizing in a sequential way (like watching a movie in my head) really didn’t work for me.  And that’s why I had always given up on visualizations before now.  It was REALLY hard, and it didn’t seem to work very well.  Or I would visualize, and my brain would literally skip over the hard parts.  What ended up working for me was visualizing only certain aspects.  For example, if I often flubbed a certain note in a certain passage, I would take a moment to visualize myself playing that note perfectly prior to actually playing the passage.  Worked every time!  It helped to make a small list of things to visualize for each excerpt, so I wouldn’t waste time trying to remember what the weak areas were.

Fundamentals are key.

OK, I didn’t actually learn this, because I’ve known this for a while now.  But this challenge proved just how important fundamentals are.  You can get away with a lot if you just go through your fundamental skills every day.  I can’t tell you how many practice sessions in this challenge were spent only playing my fundamentals.  And yet I was somehow able to get away with recording the excerpts without ever falling on my face!  Honestly, I didn’t put all that much time into practicing excerpts.

What’s next now?  Well, honestly I have the next two weeks to get through for work.  It is the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, and there are so many ceremonies and memorials!  Its weeks like this that make me feel needed in the Navy!  I’m in charge of the woodwind quintet so I have a lot of work to do.  Despite that, I’m going to attempt to start the challenge again after Thanksgiving.  I have decided (for now) to audition for Navy Band in February.  I might change my mind, there’s a lot of factors that could keep me from going.  But its easier to quit preparation already in progress than to get an audition ready at the last minute.  I’m already a little behind, if I start after Thanksgiving weekend, it only gives me 11 weeks to prepare.  But the excerpt list is short (click here to see) and not too crazy.

I’ve already created the whole plan of action.  I freaking love spreadsheets, so I created one to organize it all:

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There it is, week 11-0.  And I’ve already separated the excerpts into practice groups, and I have a video assignment planned for each week.  I’ve also separated the whole thing into phases: phase 1 is wood-shedding/technical practice (orange), phase 2 is polishing (green), and final preparation/taper (blue).  You might notice the two and a half weeks in the middle of phase 1 that is grayed out.  We’re coming home to Colorado for Christmas, and I’m not planning on taking my instrument home with me.  I need the break.  Plus, with all the crap we will be traveling with (see: traveling with a baby), I don’t want to be lugging a clarinet case along.  And whenever I bring my horn on visits home, I never really play.  So I decided to really work on visualizing and listening during that time.  I’ve never devoted that much time to mental practice, so it should be interesting.  And coming back to playing in January should be a fun time.  Heyoooo endurance.  But, I have about six weeks from when I get back home to Hawaii to the audition, so I should be alright.

I would have started the challenge this week (give myself 12 weeks instead of 11), but I know better.  With the holiday and everything, I’m not going to be able to commit the time I want, so I’m just skipping it.  I’m only committing to practice on my work days, and only have a two day work week.  Not a lot that can get done in those two days.

I’m also not going to be as strict with posting videos this time around.  Again, I know better.  I will still be recording videos (because they help!), and they will eventually be posted, but I’m not going to stress about blogging about it.  I’ll get to it when I get to it!

My son will also be turning one in a couple weeks…it is hard to believe how fast this year has gone.  It seems like it was just the other day that he was born.  Now he’s walking, talking (sort of), and developing into his own little person.  Its amazing.

So happy Thanksgiving!  The next few weeks are going to be pretty insane, so I will probably see you on the other side!

Audition reflection

Finally I have a bit of time and I thought I would post about my Navy Band audition nearly three (!) months ago.  If you don’t feel like reading a lot today, here’s is the long story short…I felt extremely prepared, and I probably played the best I’ve ever played in an audition for a long time.  Not the best I can play, but the best I’ve played in a high pressure situation.  But despite playing ALL the excerpts in the 2nd round PLUS the sight-reading selection, they didn’t advance me to the final round.  And according to the guy who was running the audition, they (the audition committee) talked about me a lot, which means that at least some of them wanted to keep me around.  That’s almost worse than playing crappy!

So here’s the long story: unfortunately, I didn’t start the day very well…I was told to be there by 9:00, although the check-in began at 7:30.  I decided since I’m a fleet MU and will be automatically advanced to the semis no matter what, that it would be better to go later in the day.  What I didn’t count on was how terrible the parking situation was on the Navy Yard.  I ended up having to park on the other side of the Yard and didn’t get to the building until 9:15…oops.  But it was all good, I just was the last person to show up, so I was dead last in the prelim round.

So I think I only waited about 3 hours to go, which is pretty good, considering at the President’s Own I waited about 5 hours to play my round.  I saw some familiar faces, my old boss from Fleet Forces, and another officer from the fleet who works in DC now.  This guy was also there to wish me luck in my “on deck” room:

What a funny painting.  Anyway, despite all of my preparation and the total lack of consequences in the first round, I was extremely nervous.  I tried to mentally “center” myself and calm down, but it seemed like no matter what I did, I couldn’t get my heart rate down.  So my first round was OK.  I had to play a couple of excerpts over, just because my nerves really got to me.  I can’t remember exactly what I played, but I do remember that I played the march and I absolutely nailed it!

Since I was last, I didn’t have to wait long to get the results of the first round, although I knew that I would be going through no matter what.  We had about 30 minutes to get ready for the semis, and I drew the number 4 out of 9 (I think)…right in the middle.  This is the round that is going to count for me.

So, once again, I found myself being extremely nervous and anxious, AGAIN.  I went in, and I fell on my face (figuratively, not literally, haha!) a couple of times, but I replayed those excerpts and completely nailed them the second time.  The committee remained silent, so I just kept on playing excerpts!  I fully expected a “THANK YOU” every time I finished playing something, but didn’t get it.  Finally, I got instructions to play the sight-reading selection on the stand.  I did ok on it, I’m not the best sight-reader, so I did well for me.

I had hopes that I would make it through to the finals, because when I did play well, I played really well.   And I played everything, which many others in the round didn’t get to do.  But I had too many mistakes, so that was it for me.  3 months of hard preparation and sacrifice done in about 10 minutes of playing.  It’s really depressing when you think about in that way.  Like I said before, the guy running the audition found me after everything was said and done and explained how the committee felt about me.  They want me to come back next time.  Its going to be hard, since I’m in Hawaii now, but I think I’ll be willing to try to make it happen when the time comes.

At the end of the day, I was really disappointed with how things went.  This is by far the most prepared I’ve been for an audition ever and I still let my nerves get the best of me.  Seriously, I had absolutely no reason to be so nervous.  The worst that would happen would be that I didn’t get the job and I would get to move to Hawaii.  It was a total win-win situation.  This was probably the least amount of pressure that I’ve had for an audition!  So I’ve really began to explore other options when it comes to managing my anxiety at auditions.

In the musician community, things like beta-blockers or other types of “medical” ways to manage performance anxiety can spark a lot of controversy.  Some might consider them “performance enhancers”.  I disagree.  If someone takes beta-blockers for an audition but doesn’t prepare well, it’s not like they magically become well prepared!  I have never taken them, and I don’t look down on people who do.  I do think that they should be an absolute last resort and one should only take them if necessary.  I’m getting to the point where I might consider it.  It feels as if I’ve tried everything!  I’ve read books, tried relaxation techniques, mental exercises, breathing exercises, vitamin supplements, etc.  Nothing seems to ease the anxiety at the moment of the audition.  It seems to be calming right up until the moment, but when the moment comes, nothing seems to matter and I’m still paralyzed by my anxiety.  So am I a good candidate for a more medical approach to my anxiety?  Maybe.  Will I do it?  Who knows.  My sister suffers from true anxiety, and she’s found some success with hypnosis.  I think I would try that over taking a pill!  I’m open to anything now!

So we will see what the future brings.  I think I have found a great preparation method for auditions, so something good did come out of the whole thing.  For now, I’m just trying to get situated in Hawaii.  We finally move in to our new place this coming Thursday.  We scored a three bedroom place, so I get my own practice room!  I’m very excited about that.  Finally I get a space solely dedicated to working on clarinet.  Teaching there is out, just because its government housing so they have certain rules about running a business in your residence.  But that’s ok, I think I want to take some time off from teaching anyway.  I was starting to get burned out in Virginia.  I just want to play my clarinet, and enjoy living in paradise for a while!

Execution vs. performance

Phase 2 is complete! Wow, the last four weeks certainly went by fast. In fact, it feels like I just started this whole process just the other day, but it was 8 weeks ago!

Anyway, back then I really wasn’t sure what I would focus on in “phase 3”, other than a two week “taper”. I think I have figured it out…the final phase needs to be shifting my focus from execution of the excerpts, to the performance of the excerpts. Did I just blow your mind? Because mine did a little when I thought of this. It makes so much sense! I have been skipping this part the whole time, going straight from executing to the audition where I was expected to perform. I’m hoping that this is the key to my mental blockage during the audition.

This phase also makes me rather nervous and uncomfortable. Why? Well I’ve spent my entire auditioning career practicing full blast right up until the audition. And now I’m doing something completely different – I’m stopping the “full blast” practice routine two weeks before the audition. While it makes perfect sense for brass players, I’m still not 100% convinced that it’s the best thing for me to do.

Coincidentally, it just so happens that I am running my 3rd (!!) half marathon of the year just 2 ½ weeks post-audition (on August 31). Because I’ve been doing both the running training plan and the audition prep training plan nearly the same time (my running plan is two weeks behind my clarinet plan), it’s been easy to see how they relate. And it reminds me that they need to be similar! Today I’m trying to put myself in the mindset of just finishing my last long training run, which is usually 12 miles (which I will be doing two weeks from now!). I love the last two weeks of a training plan – easy runs and time to eat all the calories I want. Although the food thing I can’t get away with for an audition, I should think of my practice sessions as easy from now on. I’m almost there; just downhill from here!

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Phase 1…complete!

So here’s an update on my audition preparation. Yesterday was the last day of “phase 1”, aka the woodshedding phase. I am happy to report that I have everything pretty much under my fingers. “Pretty much” being the key words here…some excerpts are certainly not clean (*cough* Dance of the Hours *cough*), and the Rossini is making me want to stab someone or something.

The first couple weeks of this phase were fine. But then the last couple weeks, when I started to get these excerpts up to tempo, that’s when I started to get aggravated. Most of the time I would leave my practice session totally pissed off and frustrated. I would spend 20 minutes just on one measure sometimes.  It was a welcome feeling when that wasn’t the case.

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All frustrations aside, the goal setting technique really helped me be more efficient. For each excerpt, I had a worksheet in which I would outline specific goals for the next time I practiced the particular excerpt. It really helped keep me focused.

For the next four weeks or so, I plan on making recordings on a daily basis and cleaning the technique. Now I start work on ALL the excerpts. For the last four weeks I have only worked on six of them. I have all the excerpts separated out into three groups (four excerpts each day – I’ve included the Rossini twice in the rotation since it’s the solo and its freaking hard), and I still will be practicing six days a week.  It’s exhausting, but if I have any hope to win this audition, this is how it has to be.  

Here we go!

Audition prep

Finally, there’s an opening in the Navy band in DC! I’m trying not to be too overzealous about it…I have to win it first. Since the last few auditions haven’t really worked out that great I’m determined to approach this audition in a new way. One of my colleagues (who is actually going up to audition for the horn spot in the DC band next week!) gave me this article that outlines a way to prepare for a major audition. The author makes the case that an audition should be approached like one would approach a race, like a half marathon. I am a runner, so it makes sense for me to compare it to a running race, but it really can be any athletic event. So, for the half marathon example, one would start training, say, 8-12 weeks prior to the race day. You would build up your mileage and your speed gradually over time (no normal person can really just jump in to a 13 mile run without building up to it, right?) and incorporate rest into the training. Ideally, you want your last long run to be two weeks before the race day, and then taper your training from there so that your body is nice and rested and you are at your peak for the race. Why wouldn’t we treat an audition the same way? What we do is a very physical thing, and we need our minds and bodies rested in order to perform at our best.

Basically, the author of the article outlines audition preparation in an 8 week evolution and it directly resembles what we runners do to prepare for a race. Week 1 is to familiarize (or re-familiarize) yourself with the excerpts. Lots and lots of listening! And putting excerpts into categories (i.e. loud, soft, technical, musical, etc.), and separating ones that are new to you, and ones that are old friends. This is also the period where you get back into the mindset of practicing excerpts, and learning which ones will need the most work so that you can prioritize for the coming weeks.

Weeks 2-6 are the meat and potatoes of the plan. He separates the excerpts into groups and rotates practice each day. Daily goal setting and recording is the name of the game! Then the last two weeks before the audition is the “taper” portion which consists of practicing the performance aspect of the excerpts, and practice with the mental game of playing an audition. He also suggests taking 90 seconds before performing each excerpt to think about what needs to happen, and then reducing that time until it lasts only 10 seconds or so. The goal is to go from being able to get the best take the second or third time, to nailing it the first time, every time.

Now, the author here is a trombone player, so the plan is really geared towards the physical part of playing a wind instrument…since playing a brass instrument can be very taxing. Woodwind players have different challenges when it comes to excerpts…most notably our excerpts are more challenging in speed and fingers. So in order to make it work for me, I tweaked it a little. Now, I have 10 weeks (not 8) before the audition, so I customized a 10 week plan for myself. Unfortunately, nearly all of the excerpts fall into the “technical” category, and a few of them I’ve never even played (including the solo! Ugh…)

 

The excerpts separated into groups.  The ones in red I have never worked on before.
The excerpts separated into groups. The ones in red I have never worked on before.


So, I divided the 10 weeks into 3 separate periods. I changed the first week from the article into a purely wood shedding period, and made it four weeks, not just one. There are 6 excerpts on the list that fall into this “technical” category, so I’ve divided them up so that I work on two a day, with a three day rotation (practicing six days a week). For each of the six excerpts, I’ve created a worksheet that defines a goal for the next time I practice that excerpt so that my practice is super focused. For example, after meeting the day’s goal for that particular excerpt, I’ll make a plan for the next time I practice the excerpt, and I’ll give myself a time limit so that I don’t get distracted by other things. I think this will be better than just blindly practicing the excerpts. I just finished week one, day five yesterday…this is going to be a rough four weeks for sure! But incredibly necessary…this is the part of clarinet playing that sucks.

The second period also lasts four weeks. It is exactly like what the article says. There is lot of recording and self evaluation (is there anything else nowadays? LOL) and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning! I am hoping to make use of a worksheet that my colleague gave me that is very similar to the one I described in the first period. This one is more based on listening back to recordings and pinpointing things that need to be improved. It also has you identify the recording as a “success” or “lesson”, which is part of the mental aspect (which I need to improve on desperately!) The end goal of this period is to be completely comfortable with every excerpt.

The third period is also a “taper” period that lasts two weeks before the audition. This is where I’m going to really try to tackle the mental game that I seem to play with myself. My process is going to be pretty much exactly what the author outlines in his article. I like the idea of starting at 90 seconds of thinking about an excerpt before playing and reducing it to a realistic amount of time for the audition. It’s practicing for your brain! This is probably exactly what I need.

I’ve also made my schedule so that I have one day a week where I don’t even pick up my horn. Usually that is a day that I have off from work, like Sundays, so I literally don’t have to touch a clarinet. Some weeks are going to be hard to get in a day of no clarinet, but I feel like I really need to do it. I think that the physical rest and mental rest is just as important and all those days of practicing, just like in the running world!

Now, the most difficult part of this plan is sticking to it during our busiest season. Not only do I have to work a million ceremonies, but we have a lot wind ensemble concerts, AND I’m playing the Artie Shaw Concerto on three of those concerts. So excerpts are not the only thing on my practice list for the next 10 weeks. So I have to prioritize…I’ve made the excerpts #1, Artie Shaw #2, and everything else #3.

So that’s my plan. My hope is not to win the audition, but feel like I did my best at the audition. I want to feel that I the reason that they didn’t pick me for the job was beyond what I could have done in the practice room. I have not felt like that at the last few auditions, and I know that’s it’s all in my head! I can do this.