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!

 

 

Week 10 assignment

I’m lucky in that I get a four days off this weekend!  So since I have a pretty strict policy of not practicing on my days off, I went ahead and recorded my video for week 11 this afternoon.  Aaaaaaaand of course I left my camera at work!  So I will have to wait to post my video until I have a chance to retrieve my camera.

But, I want to go ahead and post the assignment for next week, week 10.  We’ve been exploring our fundamentals and playing things slow and deliberate for the last couple weeks, and I’m ready to move on and start really woodshedding some of these excerpts.

First thing to do is divide all the excerpts on the list into groups, organized by practice priority.  I will use three groups: group 1 will be excerpts that need the most technical practice, group 2 will be technical excerpts that I already know, and group 3 will be the excerpts that don’t need much technical work.  Here is how I divided it up:

Group 1:  Dahl Sinfonietta, Holst Hammersmith (both excerpts), Borodin Polovetsian Dances, Bach Duet

Group 2: Gounoud Ballet from Faust, Mozart Serenade (all excerpts), Midway March, Beethoven 8, Grainger

Group 3: Brahms 3, Schubert Octet, Berlioz Symphony Fantastique, Mendelssohn Scherzo, Bizet Carmen, Mendelssohn Hebrides

I’m going to say this up front.  For the next four weeks, we’re not even going to touch the excerpts in group 3.  Relax.  You won’t need 10 weeks to practice them, I promise!  We’re going to model a three phase process throughout the rest of the challenge: woodshedding and technical practice, polishing, and “taper”.  The next four weeks is the woodshedding phase.  You can read more about this process here.

Here is this week’s assignment:

  • Organize the excerpts into three groups as described above.
  • Record a video of the following, focusing on technical perfection (play the excerpt only as fast as you can play it perfectly):
    • Mozart Concerto – Fermata to end of exposition
    • 3 excerpts (your choice) from group 1
    • 2 excerpts (your choice) from group 2

The next 3 assignments will be very similar to this, just FYI.

I’m swimming in the Waikiki Roughwater swim on Monday, so wish me luck!  Well as long as Hurricane Lester doesn’t spoil our fun.

Just a reminder not to forget your fundamentals!  Do them everyday.  EVERYDAY.  It will make everything easier.

Happy practicing!

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Yep.  Been awhile since my last post.  Isn’t that always the case?  I get so busy with life that I forget about these things.  Living in Hawaii hasn’t exactly helped either.  Also…

babyh

Yes that’s right!  We’re expecting a baby boy in December!  Not exactly planned, but sometimes life is like that.  We couldn’t be more thrilled, though.

I was lucky, and I had a relatively easy first trimester.  Not too much morning sickness, just a lot of fatigue!  I was even able to do a parade on the big island of Hawaii at 5 weeks along fairly easily (I had only found out earlier that week!).  Now I’m just over halfway done with pregnancy (22 weeks), and this is the first week that I’ve really noticed a change in my ability to play my clarinet.  As in, my breath support is really starting to suffer.  I just can’t breathe as deeply!  Phrases that I was easily able to play through in one breath before have become increasingly more difficult.  And my right side starts to ache after playing for awhile.  I guess this is how it goes…?

I’m trying to keep up with a regular routine of practicing, even though I have nothing really to practice for, other than clarinet trio at work.  Some days I get so exhausted that I allow myself to skip a practice sesion, but usually its not more than one or two days a week, if at all.  I’ve been focusing mostly on fundamentals – long tones, articulation, scales, and I try to work in an etude if I can.  I’ve really gotten into this Gillet technique book lately (which I don’t think you can buy anymore…I was given the book by a community band clarinet colleague in Colorado a long time ago, and its ooooooooooold).  If anything its helped me maintain my endurance while things are slow at work.

I’ve been approaching practice in a little bit of a different perspective.  I have discovered that mistakes are caused by a sheer lack of mental focus.  I have discovered that I generally play without this in mind.  In the past I have had a tendency to let my mind wander while playing my daily routine, so I started there.  I’ve been trying to focus on the task at hand, whether it be playing long tones, scales, or whatever mundane exercise I’m working on.  Living in the present, if you will.  It is harder than you think to execute if you’re brain is not trained in this way!  To not think about anything else but what you’re doing IN THE MOMENT is really, really difficult.  Us humans are so concerned about the past and the future, we tend to do many things with only those things in mind.

I’ve been trying this approach for a few months now and I still have good days and bad days.  But I’ve felt a incredible improvement in my overall playing, especially sight reading, which has never been my forte.  It has also opened my eyes to the fact that when I do make a mistake, 95% of the time it is because my mind is not “in the moment”, that in fact, I’m thinking of something completely different or even unrelated to music!  Quite a relevation.  And a frustrating one.  To think that I spent so many years playing/practicing like that!  No wonder I have trouble on auditions!  I think too much about the extraneous things (the panel of judges, for example), that my brain forgets that I have to play and execute the music.

Hopefully by changing the way my brain works while playing will help me win auditions in the future.  Its a long road, but I’m going to keep working!  I still have my eye on you in D.C., Navy Band!!

Years of Service: 3

Honestly, I can’t believe its been three years since I shipped myself off to navy boot camp.  It feels as if the three years I’ve actually spent in the Navy has gone faster than the eight months that I had to wait to go to boot camp.  Crazy how that is.

Receiving my good conduct medal yesterday. 3 years baby!

I’ve never truly regretted my decision to enter the fleet music program for a second.  I’ve always been thankful that I have a full-time playing job that pays well and has great benefits, which is a lot more than most musicians can claim that they have.  Some days are harder than others though…for example, yesterday I found out that I was less than four points away from getting promoted to E5.  ARRRGGH.  Talk about frustrating.

The past 3 years I have also really struggled with the overwhelming desire to be in a premiere band.  The past few months I’ve come to realize that although being in a premiere band seems “cooler” because you get paid more (E6 right off the bat), being able to stay in one place for an entire career, and getting to play for major dignitaries (ie the President), being in the fleet has its perks.  Since I’ve been at FFB, I’ve played for the Polish president, Secretary of the Navy, several members of Congress, and of course the Commander of Fleet Forces,   I’ve also played on national radio, played on more ships and carriers than I can count, and even witnessed the christening of the newest carrier.  I’ve also had the opportunity to play one of the Mendelssohn Concertpieces with the wind ensemble, and will have the opportunity to play another solo with the band this summer.  And there’s probably a lot more stuff that I am forgetting!  Also, I’m probably going to be moving to Hawaii soon, to play with the Pacific Fleet Band (no official written orders yet though, just verbal orders).  I also have met so many awesome people, and will meet even more, because of the rotation that happens in the program.  I now know at least one person in all 11 fleet bands!  I really think that’s neat.

Unfortunately, I often feel wrongly judged in the clarinet community because I’m in the military, but not in a premiere band.  It seems that people think that I’m not “as good” because I’m in the fleet.  How wrong they are!  There are incredibly good musicians in all the fleet bands.  I’m hoping that the more good musicians come into the program and the more of the “bad” musicians get out, the more that stigma will disappear.  In fact, it is just as hard now to get into the navy fleet bands as it is to get into a premiere band!

I think that I’ve finally gotten to the place where I am truly happy where I am.  Yes, if there is an opening in DC, I will more likely than not take the audition.  But, unlike before, where I felt so desperate to win and get that permanent assignment, I feel fine with where I am now.  Hey, I’m going to be getting paid to live and work in paradise soon!  Can’t get much better than that, can it?

Reeds! (part one)

A few weeks ago, I clicked on an ad on Facebook about getting some samples of reeds.  I’m always up for new reeds, and I’m always up for trying something new.  I entered my address and info, and promptly forgot about it, until a few days ago, when I got a package in the mail.  This company, D’Addario Woodwinds, sent me six reeds to try (three each of two types)!  They are called Reserve by D’Addario.  I’ll be honest, I felt really cool and exclusive getting to try these reeds!

I started breaking them in just like I normally do.  First impression: very consistent.  In fact, this seems to be one of the major selling points of these reeds.  I really like that – there is such a wide variety of strengths and responses in a box of Vandorens that it was almost strange to have each reed basically play the same.  I also noticed that they come pretty well balanced already (unlike Vandorens!), I’ve had to do minimal balancing work, especially compared to when I’m breaking in my normal V-12s.  I think the 3.5 strength was a little soft for my setup, but I just sanded down the tips a little, and kept them high on the mp.  And after a couple days of playing them, they seem to be stiffening up a bit.  So far I’m favoring the “Traditional” over the “Thick Blank”, but its still early.  We’ll see how they feel in a month.

So far, I’m impressed with these reeds.  Like I said, its still early in the reed-breaking in process, but based on what I’ve experienced so far, I would most definitely recommend these reeds.  I’ll post a “part two” in a couple months after I’ve really used them, and I can more confidently give my recommendation.

 

Government shutdown and humidity

As of my last post, my schedule was pretty ridiculous…I was not looking forward to being so busy.  Well, since my last post, our awesome congress decided to let the government shut down.  Luckily, we are still being paid, but there’s no money for gas for our vehicles to get to gigs!  So we are not allowed to do any community relations gigs…so not wind ensemble concerts, etc.  Military gigs only.  So my calendar opened up quite a bit because probably half of our gigs got the ax.  It was interesting looking at our gig board and seeing red X’s all over the place.  I have still been very busy though…we’ve been having tons of WWQ rehearsal (we actually had a gig on Saturday night).  We just changed up personnel, and we have a new unit leader.  I am really enjoying it, everyone is really good – there are no weak links.  It makes rehearsals super fun!  I missed having a group to play in like that.

So for the last couple months I have been playing in my scale books at least an hour a day (or trying to anyway). I went through my Didier “Le Gammes du Clarinetiste” book, and now I’m going through my Baermann volume 3.  I do a key per day, and I do each exercise several times with different articulations (at least 5 times).  I have really noticed a difference!  It takes a little time, but I feel like my fingers are more relaxed and I can play fast things easier.  I’ve also incorporated the President’s Own audition excerpts into my daily routine, playing them extremely slow (half tempo).  I’ve even been playing the Mozart Concerto at half tempo!  It’s really tough, but I think its making me better.  I want to be able to play that stuff in my sleep!

photo11
This is as far as my upper and lower joints will fit together…there’s at least a 1mm gap!

Anyway, what else is going on…oh my A clarinet got stuck together again…but I found a solution.  If I leave the clarinet right in front of the A/C vent and turn it on, it will shrink the wood enough to get it apart.  Probably not the best thing for it, but neither is being stuck together.  Speaking of that, I’m super frustrated with my A clarinet, the tuning is all jacked up because I can’t fit the upper and lower joints together completely without risking them being stuck together.  I really don’t want to, but I might have to go and get the joint fitted a little better if the wood doesn’t shrink down in the next month or so.  It is making all my “lower joint” notes flatter than the notes that I only use my left hand for.  The difference is quite staggering actually, at least a 10-20 cent difference on the tuner.  I’m just afraid that if I do get it fitted, once the humidity goes down, will it become wobbly?  Ugh.  Not quite sure of what to do, especially with that Marine Band audition coming up.

Reinecke Trio

This past week I got to do something that I haven’t had a chance to do since I was in school. I got to play real chamber music! My co-worker, who is a horn player, put together a chamber music recital with a bunch of us from the band. We played the Trio for Horn, Clarinet and Piano by Carl Reinecke. I had never heard of this composer before, but apparently he’s fairly well known to pianists.  He was a piano player himself in the late 19th and early 20th century.  And it is quite apparent that he was a pianist that didn’t know a lot about wind instruments…both the clarinet and horn parts are really awkward to play!  And the piano part is a monster.  Luckily we were able to find a pianist who was able and willing.  You can check out the score here on imslp.org.

Speaking of Petrucci library…we didn’t buy the music…nor did we really want to (that stuff is expensive!).  And since only the score is online, we had to transcribe the parts ourselves.  (There’s viola and violin parts online, but those were composed separately by Reinecke and are not the same as the wind parts – very interesting!)  This meant that I had to make some creative decisions…like which clarinet to play it on, because the score is in concert pitch!  I ended up going with Bb for all movements except the 2nd movement.  The second movement ended up being much easier played on A.  I have no idea if that’s what the actual part is, but its what I did!

The music is really nice, its probably one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever played.  Despite being awkward to play, it doesn’t sound like it!  Its too bad that its not in the standard repertoire.  It should be!  Its hard to play, but its totally worth it.  I went to a wedding last weekend in Colorado, and I actually brought my clarinet with me, and practiced about an hour each day because its the type of music that I had to play through everyday in order to keep up with it.

The recital was great, we had a good audience who really appreciated all the music.  I kinda felt like a rock star!  Makes me want to do more recitals.  We’ll see!  I have no time to practice for one right now, with all the work stuff I have to prepare for our summer concerts.  Maybe in the fall!