Planning…it’s the new "thing"

This week in lieu of my regular practicing on Tuesday night, I decided that I would do a video recording to re-evaluate how I was sounding.  I always initially feel like its a wasted practice night when I make a recording, until I listen back to the recording I made – it always opens my eyes to something weird that I’m doing, which is worth a thousand hours of practice.

But this time, instead of doing just a regular recording in my practice room, I thought it might be beneficial to do a mock audition in another room of my house that I don’t normally practice in.  The purpose of which is to get used to playing in a foreign environment.  While my living room isn’t exactly a concert hall, it is different enough to in acoustics and feel to make the playing experience feel somewhat strange.

While I was at work that day, I was thinking about whether or not I should do my complete daily warm up to prepare for my “audition”, and it dawned on me how chaotic my real pre-audition routine actually is (and by chaotic I mean completely nonexistent) – which probably either directly or indirectly affected the actual outcome of how I play at auditions.  I knew my daily routine would not work…it takes over an hour to fully go through and I need a tuner, drone, I decided I would take the opportunity to try to establish some kind of audition warm up – something that I know will be a reliable way to warm up my embouchure and fingers, and to choose a reed, all while surrounded by a million honking clarinet players.  I think I made a good start – here’s what I came up with:
1. Chromatic scale of full range in whole notes at quarter = 60, no louder than mezzoforte (I don’t want to be one of those honking clarinetists!) – play once through on each instrument called for at the audition.
2. Klose scales at quarter = 60
3. Klose scales at quarter =120
4. Full range chromatic scale with articulated pattern of eighth and two sixteenths, one note per measure at quarter = 120.
5. Play through each excerpt at a greatly reduced tempo – e.g. Mozart expo at quarter = 80.

Of course, I switch off between instruments so that I get warmed up on everything – also switch reeds when necessary until I find the “perfect” reed.  I’m going to keep tweaking this routine to see what works best, I might add in another repetition of the Klose at quarter = 80 because my fingers felt a little clumsy going from 60-120.  In my normal routine, I do Klose scales in 3rds at 80 in between which bridges the change in tempo a little, but I am trying to keep things as simple as possible.  In its entirety, it takes about 20-30 minutes to go through this routine, which is about the minimum amount of time that I will have to warm up.  We’ll see if it pays off to have a plan at the audition!

After I listened back to the recording I made on Tuesday night, I found that I was making a lot of little mistakes.  Not huge mistakes, just bobbles here and there, even with pieces that I should be able to do in my sleep like the Mozart and Mendelssohn Scherzo.  I thought to myself, I really need to practice the auditioning part!  I kind of did it before, but I would do a mock audition only once before an audition and call that “practice”.  Plus I would do it in the comfort of my own practice room, which kind of defeats the purpose.  It would be like if I ran through the Mozart only once a day or two before the audition.  Ha!

So it has been decided.  I need to practice the audition part of the audition in addition to the execution of playing the excerpts.  I am going to do a mock audition 2-3 times per week for the next three weeks (i’ll record only once a week though – I don’t have time to go through all of that audio/video!).  But I’m going to set some ground rules to make sure I don’t “cheat”:

1. Change the location of the mock audition so that I don’t get used to the same place.  Tuesday  was my living room…next time maybe the kitchen?  Or the bathroom?  Maybe I’ll go to Eastman before school starts back up again next week?
2. Always use the pre-established “audition warm up”.
3. Create a “prelim list” and a “finals list” before each mock.  The finals list will probably include all the excerpts minus the Mozart in a random order.  Prelim list will always include Mozart and Mendelssohn Scherzo, along with two or three others in random order.

Now I know I can’t recreate exactly what the audition will be like in Washington DC, but I’m going to try to get as close as possible without being completely rediculous (like playing unrelated music or tv while trying to warm up or pretending to walk in to the audition…although now that I think about it, it might be useful to do that!)

I am super committed to this audition – my motivation came when my recruiter told me if I won the audition I would outrank most of the guys who work in my recruiting office right out of boot camp!  And plus its a hefty raise…about $600 more a month!

I’ll keep updated on my progress.

New year, new adventures

2011 is set to be one of the more adventurous years that I have ever had.  Between joining the Navy, moving out of Rochester, running a half marathon (hopefully), I’ve got a lot on my plate for 2011.  I am so excited, but also very anxious – new adventures almost always brings new obstacles.  Moving sucks, and I have to somehow make it through eight weeks of boot camp.  And the uncertainty of what Ben is going to be doing is kind of scary.  The prospect of living separate is something I really hope doesn’t come to fruition.

As far as new years resolutions, I don’t have any major ones.  I’m not a “new years resolution” type of person, I think that if you want to better yourself, you shouldn’t have to wait for a new year to start making those kind of commitments.  I feel like I accomplished a lot in 2010 – I started running, and I completed two 5ks and an indoor triathlon!  Also I got some direction in my career, which I desperately needed.  I also performed my first non-school recital, which was quite an achievement considering I work full time in a non-musical job.  I would say that my audition hiatus of 2010 (besides the Navy audition over the summer) has helped my playing a lot.  I felt like I was able to focus on fundamentals instead of stupid excerpts.  I feel like my playing is more focused, and better executed.  Plus I can sight read a whole lot better now!

As far as resolutions for 2011, I want to keep doing what I’m doing.  Keep running – I want to do a half marathon before I leave for boot camp.  Also keep practicing hard as usual.  Maybe do another recital????  We will see.

I am feeling pretty good about the Navy Band audition in a few weeks, a lot better than I did a year ago for the Marine Band audition.  I’m just trying to be as prepared as possible – lots of slow practice.  I decided not to go back to H&R Block this year for tax season.  I liked working there, but it was just too much.  Last year, it was so busy at the tax office in January I barely had time to practice (check out my blog post from that week!).  And the most annoying thing was that as soon as February hit, it was completely dead until April!  I don’t want that to happen again, and if I want to be in the Navy Band in DC I need to make clarinet a priority!  Even if it means I have to tighten my budget a little.

One more thing, here’s a new years treat from my recital this past October, me performing Debussy’s Syrinx.
(sorry about the camera angle, its just the way the stage and the camera was set up!)

I’m going to post the rest of the pieces soon, but this one is my favorite!

duple vs. triple

This past week I’ve been exploring the use of a technique that I’ve kind of developed on my own.  I call it the “two-against-three” practice technique.  What I’ve been experimenting with is if playing duples against triplet rhythms actually makes your duples more even (and visa versa).  In the past, I’ve used this on an excerpt that’s an old favorite of mine (NOT, lol!), the first movement of Beethoven 6:

I set the metronome at around quarter = 80 (no faster, but you can certainly go slower!) and set the subdivision on the metronome to duple eighths.  I ended up practicing it this way kind of by accident – I tended to rush the 16ths in the first three bars, so I would put my metronome on the duple subdivision to make sure I was getting it exactly right…and out of laziness I would go on to the rest of the excerpt with the same duple subdivision.  I ended up discovering that I started to play the triplets more evenly!  So I began to intentionally practice the triplets in this manner.  Basically, I think the reason for this is that because your brain is fighting the sound of the duple, it has to think really hard about playing the triples – in turn they are extremely accurate.  Plus, I think it makes practicing excerpts more fun!  I would say challenging, but we all know that excerpts are super challenging because they have to be super super perfect!

For awhile, I only used this technique for that particular excerpt, but recently I’ve wondered if this can be applied to others.  Right now I’m working on a few excerpts for the Youtube Symphony audition – Mozart, Beethoven 8, Mendelssohn scherzo, and RK Capriccio Espagnol.  I haven’t practiced any of them for several months so I thought it may be a good time to see if this technique of practice really helps. For each excerpt I’m setting the metronome subdivision on the opposite rhythm (e.g. Mozart – triplets, Scherzo – duples, etc.)  So far, it seems to be working fairly well – I am actually catching myself rushing here and there when I’m using the two against three method, where I don’t think I would have notice before, especially in the Capriccio.  And each excerpt seems to be getting more rhythmically grounded!

I’ve actually taken this a step further with the Mendelssohn Scherzo excerpt – I’ve been practicing it in 2/8 time.  Huh?  You can stop scratching your head now.  I’ll explain…basically, instead of thinking of the excerpt being written like this:

I think of it being written like this:

Hold on, I’ll let you clean up from your brain exploding…  You’re right, its totally weird at first – its like running backwards, but once you get the hang of it, its fairly easy.  (I always have to make sure I play it in 3/8 afterwards in order to “cleanse my pallate” – it feels pretty odd to leave the excerpt in 2/8 time).  Going back and forth from thinking in 2/8 to thinking in 3/8 is a little tricky too!  If you’re like me, the first 16th of the measure is always difficult to place exactly in time, and this is a way to fix that problem.  I always rush it, or its late.  Its never just right!  But for some reason, placing the emphasis on different notes in the measure helps with evenness…not sure why, but it seems to work for me!  I could go on and on and on about changing rhythms for practice purposes…but I think I’ll reserve elaborating on that topic for another day.

Of course, the two against three method doesn’t work with all types of music.  For example, I attempted to practice the Eb excerpt of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique in this way, and it was a fail.  Since the excerpt is composed of mostly “long-short-long-short” rhythms, putting a duple rhythm within that just muddies things up and it gets too confusing.  After just one try, I knew this wasn’t going to work for this particular excerpt and I didn’t want to try to force it.  This technique should never be forced!  It will either click in your head or it won’t.

Lastly, I really should mention that this is intended for people who have mastered the two against three rhythmic conundrum.  If you aren’t very good at two against three, you will quickly get frustrated with this particular technique and want to throw your clarinet out the window.  Trust me, I’ve tried (and failed) to teach this technique to students who haven’t mastered it.  Its a bad idea – we’re talking about “deer in headlights” looks all around.

So how do you “master” the two against three rhythm?  Look no further than Dr. Lawson’s (from CSU) scrubber (left).  Set your met to 60 and practice your scales.  I still do this exercise as part of my warm up – but I articulate all notes and use it as articulation and rhythm practice (two birds with one stone, yes).  But it is just as rhythmically effective to slur, and make sure to repeat each one at least three times.  And to throw another wrench in the mix – practice it by note, not by the pattern; which means do all the patterns on each note before moving on the the next note.  This forces you to switch your brain quickly between twos and threes (in this context, 3s, 5s, 7s, and 9s are considered “threes”, and the rest considered “twos”).  This is a great way to practice your awkward 5s and 7s also!

Hope you enjoyed my little post about my newly discovered practice technique.  I challenge you to give it a try it if you can!

Happy practicing!!

the home stretch…

The last couple weeks I have been practicing like a mofo…seriously.  My aspirations are getting the best for me again.  Literally Monday through Friday I practice 2 1/2 to 3 hours after work…and somehow I am still finding time to work out!  I can’t really do anything else though, and I’m feeling exhausted by bedtime.  Its ok, it will be totally worth it.  My recital program is really starting to come together! It will be ready by next Friday…I hope.  I’m so excited!  Hopefully my reeds won’t freak out because of the dryness and altitude.  Lots of practicing will take place in the few days before the concert to make sure I adapt well!

Right now I’m fighting with figuring out an order for the recital.  I have 4 out of 5 pieces that end softly and anti-climactic, and the the 5th is really short.  I have to think of what makes sense for the audience and myself (since I’m using all three of my instruments).   I’m thinking of this order:

Bolcom – Little suite of four dances (Eb clarinet & piano)
Sutermeister – Capriccio (solo A clarinet)
Finzi – Five Bagatelles (Bb clarinet & piano)
Debussy – Syrinx (solo A clarinet)
Poulenc – Sonata for two clarinets (Bb clarinet)

The thing I’m fighting with is whether or not to switch the Poulenc and Finzi.  Neither are good closers in general, but they are the best closers relative to the group of pieces that I have.  Hmmmmmm…I’ll take a week to think about it.

Anyway, in other news, I’ve been invited back to play with the group Ad Hoc again. (Check out their website,  We are performing the Mozart Serenade (again – we did it in the concert series back in August) at the Eastman house this weekend.  I’m playing the 2nd part again with the same clarinetist as before playing the first part.  There are some new players, so it feels like a different group – better actually.  I’m also playing the Poulenc duo with the other clarinetist on the concert, which is great because I will get some practice performing the piece before the real deal next week.  We worked on it last night; it was the first time that I played the piece with another human being and it felt pretty good.  I think we play really well together – its great when you just click with another musician.  Unfortunately, I’ve had more of the opposite situation, where we are mismatched and it takes a lot more work to achieve the same result. Its so refreshing when things come together so easily.  Our playing just flowed very well together, it was nice.

Last night I also had a moment where I felt so grateful that I played such a cool instrument, and that I’m actually really good at it and this is what I’m going to be doing as my profession!  I truly love playing clarinet, I really feel like myself when I’ve got my instrument in my hands.  I can’t imagine myself doing anything else and being as happy!

It really feels good to be performing again.  I feel lucky to have stumbled upon Ad Hoc, and its beginning to open up some doors for more performing here in Rochester.  I’ve been focused the last couple years on auditions and its refreshing to be playing for people who isn’t critically judging me!   I hate auditioning, but I love performing.  Maybe that’s why I don’t do that great at auditions sometimes….ha.

There’s a first time for everything!

This post doesn’t have much to do with clarinet, I’ll be perfectly honest.  But I experienced a couple major “firsts” that I feel I must share.  The one that I’m most proud is from Saturday.  I completed my first 5k race!  It was never a goal for me to do a race when I started to run at the beginning of the summer, but it seemed like something fun to do and something motivating to keep me in shape since I have to wait so long before I ship out.

The race itself was not a true 5k, only 2.9 miles, so just short of a full 5k.  It took place on the UR river campus and the course was really nice, most of it was along the Genesee river (which if you don’t know, is the river that runs through downtown Rochester).  I told myself I was going to go all out because I wanted to get it under 30 minutes, which I had yet to do in my 5k workouts.  Usually I don’t run 100% during my workouts, mostly because I don’t want to overdo it, but there is a little bit of laziness there too!!  I figured I had no excuse not to go 100% here.

I set a pretty fast pace from the beginning, I think because I was so excited and there were about 100 people around me!  I had to remind myself several times that I had to hold back my pace a little if I wanted to make it through the entire race!  But I was still booking – I got to the first mile marker and I looked down at my watch at it said just over 8 minutes!  Woo!  Personal record for a mile for me!  I’ve been struggling to get my miles under 9 minutes, so I felt awesome.  What was really inspiring was a group of Marines who were running next to me in their uniforms with 60lb packs on (oh and boots, no running shoes!!).  Yes, I’ll be in the military soon too, but I’ll probably never be like that.  I’m only doing it to play my silly instrument!  They were very inspiring and motivating!  Totally awesome.

At this point I had a good pace going, and I felt really good.  About half way through the 2nd mile, that’s when I started to pass a lot of people.  I think other people were blasting through the beginning and then they ran out of gas.  I got to the 2 mile marker and I was at about 16 minutes…holy cow!  Even if I had walked from this point I probably would have been under 30 minutes!  I kept pushing on, though, cuz that’s how I roll.  The last mile was the toughest, because it had a lot of up and down hills.  I felt like I was going to run out of gas at the end, but then I saw the finish line, and I decided to really push it and sprint the last 100 feet or so.  I saw the official clock as I was approaching the finish line, and it said 24:05!!!!  I was so proud of myself and happy.  I don’t know what my official time was, because I saw the clock several seconds out from the finish line, but I don’t really care because it was so much faster than I had even anticipated! 

So after a great weekend, I had a lovely meeting with my recruiter.  This is where the second “first” comes in…I’m much less proud of this one.  I had to give a military salute for the first time yesterday!  Haha and it sucked ass.  Now since I’m in DEP I have to do a salute routine before I can enter the recruiter’s office.  Basically it goes like this: I march in, flank left on this Navy rug, do a salute to the American flag in the corner, turn to anyone in the office, hold up my DEP ID card and salute and say, “Future Sailor Herrera requesting permission to board”, and then wait for someone to say, “permission granted”.  And when I leave, I have to salute my recruiter (and hold up my DEP ID card) and say “Future Sailor Herrera requesting permission to go ashore”, wait for them to say “permission granted”, and then turn and salute the flag, and march out of the office.  Ugh, it did not go that smoothly.  I won’t go into details, but it was pretty!  And I was super nervous, which didn’t help at all. 

Last week my recruiter said that the reason that they make us do this is because this is what is expected in basic training, and they are trying to get us used to doing it.  So i guess I’m glad I’m making these mistakes now instead of later!  My recruiters are a little more forgiving than the people at RTC!!!  Ugh, but I was still embarrassed…mostly because Ben witnessed the whole thing!!  LOL!  I’ll get used to it I’m sure…and I’m sure I will be embarrassed several more times before this journey ends!

237 days!!!!


So it’s set!  I am officially giving a recital in CO in October!  This is thanks to my awesome sister, who has graciously put in the time and effort to raise funds for the trip and recital related expenses!  I am so excited for it.  It will take place on October 22 at 7:30pm at Magnolia Music Studio in Fort Collins.  Also thanks to Cynthia Vaughan for the performance space!  The program is still subject to change (and it has changed once already!), but for right now it is as follows in no particular order…
Sutermeister – Capriccio
Bolcom – Little Suite of four dances
Finzi – Five bagatelles
Poulenc – Sonata for two clarinets
aaaaaand possibly an arrangement of Debussy’s Syrinx for solo flute that I am currently working on.
Originally, I wanted to put Muczinski Time Pieces on the program….but after the date was set I kinda figured that it was a going to be hard to prepare it in a month (!!), even though I’ve played it before.  It’s a pretty challenging piece – I played it for my jury at ESM.  I might save it for a potential spring recital.  In its place I wanted to try to do the Brahms Eb sonata…but after going through 3 pianists I’ve decided that it’s not worth the effort.  I needed a pianist that had played it before (semi-recently) and that was also available.  Easier said than done!  I can possibly also save that one for a spring recital. 
And if you have read my past blog entries, you might be wondering why I didn’t include the Poulenc Sonata (for clarinet/piano).  I really wanted to play the Poulenc duo…and I couldn’t really justify putting two Poulenc pieces on the same program!!  It basically came down to which one I wanted to do more.
So now I had to figure out something easy enough to prepare in a month and that was easy on the pianist (or involved no pianist).  So on Friday I opened up my itunes and shuffled all of my recordings of clarinet music.  The first one to pop up was the Sutermeister (played by Robert Dilutis).  That’s it!  I’m going to play that.  I’ve never played it before, but I know it’s relatively easy because I taught it to one of my river campus students my last semester at ESM.  Plus, it doesn’t involve any piano, which is probably a good thing considering the whole time situation!  
Unfortunately, the piece is much shorter than the Brahms/Muczinski, so I explored other options to fill in the gaps.  I have always had a love for this flute piece by Debussy – but I was never good enough at flute to play it!  So I thought…what would happen if I arranged it for clarinet??  Turns out…it works pretty OK for the A clarinet.  So depending on how I feel about the arrangement I think I will try it out!  It’s my first arrangement (well besides arranging 16th century polyphony into duets for my students – which they love by the way!) so I’m a little self conscious about right now!  I will post it once I’ve made some tweaks….
I’ve noticed that my program has an unintended theme – pieces that I could never get away with playing in school!  With the exception of the Poulenc, all of these pieces would be too easy to study for a degree recital or a jury (at least at a graduate level).  But it doesn’t mean that they are lacking musically – they are all very enjoyable for the audience!  Which I guess is what I’m going for…

Anyway I better stop blogging and get practicing!  T-minus 30 days…

And while we’re on the subject of countdowns…243 days…..

An interesting article that caught my eye…

Makes me understand why my husband is so crazy about brushing his teeth before he plays his tuba:

Kind of gross, right? 

Now, I am not exactly an angel when it comes to eating and playing…in fact I’ve been known to teach or practice while drinking coffee (tee hee…).  But I think us woodwinders have an advantage over brass players – we actually get to swab out our instruments all the time.  Now, I’m not sure all the crud gets out, but it helps.  Honestly, I don’t think the inside of my instrument is dirty at all…I have had my instrument for 6 years and it is clean as a whistle inside – I would feel comfortable eat off it if that were possible.

Now it sounds gross, but I usually try to “swish” out the chunks of whatever I have just eaten with water or whatever I’ve got on hand (celery sticks are great for “cleaning out” your mouth!) before I blow on my instrument.  But I never ever brush my teeth…I don’t see a real need for it.

I do try to refrain from snacks during rehearsal breaks…I usually give string/piano players the evil eye to make sure they leave me and my woodwind friends some for after rehearsal is over.  The only reason I do this is because I don’t want crumbs getting stuck in my reed/mouthpiece!  Not because I’m concerned of the potential germs, haha.

 So call me a bad girl, but I don’t care!