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!

 

 

Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm!!

This is a little bit of a rant, so brace yourself.

Why is it that the world seems to have terrible rhythm?  Or at least it seems to lately.  I have been noticing as of late how many of my students and people that I play with have issues with rhythm/tempo.  As a product of the American music education system, I think I know why.  It is because when we learn our instruments, the emphasis is placed on playing right notes and fingers.  That is number one, and rhythm is number two.  Why is that?  Rhythm is SO much more important than notes.  Think about it: when someone misses a note, it might sound weird for that one note, but then it is fine…and if the listener doesn’t really know what the music sounds like, it might not even sound like a mistake.  But if one misses a rhythm, it can be much more detrimental to the flow of the melody, and to the cohesion of the ensemble.  I notice this with my students constantly.  I like to play duets with my students (to teach rhythmic consistency, ha!), and if they have trouble with rhythm, it can be really difficult to get through a piece.  I constantly tell them to think about the rhythm first, notes/fingers second, but for some reason our brains are hard wired to think the opposite.  Its a constant struggle.

And Monday night, I was floored by the rhythmic atrocities I witnessed at VWS rehearsal.  Simple rhythms were either being played completely wrong, or they rushed or dragged so badly that it made the ensemble fall apart.  And these are people who are full time musicians and people who are teaching the next generation of musicians!  I’m not saying that I have perfect rhythm, I certainly do not, but I always put good rhythm in front of correct notes.  And I try to emphasize its importance to the people around me, especially my students.  I feel like I have a duty to this world to start teaching the importance of good rhythm!

One of my student recently was having trouble learning 6/8 rhythm.  He had been playing in duple since he started clarinet (I started him as a beginner), and so it was somewhat of a task to start dividing in three instead of two.  I created this little exercise that we can do during lessons:rhythmIt has really worked wonders.  Instead of teaching the individual rhythms by themselves, I am trying to teach the relationship between rhythms in the same time signature.  Basically, I play one line, and the student plays the other.  For example, I would play line #2, while the student played line #1.  This shows the student that there are three eighth notes per note that I play.  Then once that is mastered, I would move on to something more complicated, like, I play #2, and the student plays #4, etc.

If they are having difficulties at first, I will have them play line #2 and I will play one of the other lines, just so they can see how it sounds.  Any line can play with the other, the possibilities are endless!  I also created a version for duple meter.  This is what I love about teaching; coming up with new ways to teach an idea so that it makes sense to that particular student!

Never underestimate the power of good rhythm!

Good things coming?

Lately I’ve been struggling to be motivated to practice something that’s not ensemble music.  Because, let’s be honest, that stuff doesn’t always make you better (unless its Grainger’s Molly on the Shore!  Haha…I played the solo part a few weeks ago at a wind ensemble concert – talk about sweating bullets!).  But finally some great news came my way a couple of weeks ago…the President’s Own Marine Band posted a clarinet audition for December.  And since the marine corps is under the umbrella of the department of the Navy, I am eligible (I think).  I am so ready.  I’ve got just a little over 10 weeks to prepare for it, which is a perfect amount of time.  There is also nothing too crazy for me in the excerpt list.  A “crazy” excerpt for me is something that is incredibly technical and fast…Dvorak Carneval Overture, William Tell Overture, Russlan and Ludmilla, etc.  You get the idea.  There is nothing like that!  Makes me happy.  I’m gonna rock it!

So I’ve been trying to get my mini-disc working because I want to do some recording.  I haven’t really used it in awhile…aaaaaand the battery is totally done.  Its kinda old, I got the thing in 2005-ish.  Anyway, my husband has one too, but much newer, so I dug it out.  Yay, it works!  Oh but the stupid software that I need to use to get the recordings off the mini-disc is not compatible with Windows 7.  So I can listen to it straight off the player, but that’s all.  So OK, maybe its time for an upgrade then.  I did some research, and I found a great blog that lists the Top 5 recording devices for musicians.  I liked the iPhone option (and it seemed the cheapest), so I decided to get the Tascam IM2 microphone.  I got it super cheap off Amazon, so that was a bonus!  Unfortunately, the app that they say goes with the mic completely crashed my phone!  So I deleted it and I’m just using the voice recorder that comes with the phone software.  It works really nicely!  I was generally impressed with the recording of the iPhone by itself before, so with the condenser mic it makes the quality even better.  Its a great option for iPhone users who don’t want to spend a ton of money on a good quality recorder.

I’ve also decided to start keeping a reed log.  We’ll see how long that lasts!   HA.

Teaching at the high school has been going great.  The students had their first competition last week, and they did great!  First place all around, and second highest score of the night.  I’m so proud!  This marching band competition stuff is all new territory for me, I only did marching band seriously in college, and we don’t compete in college marching bands.  At their competition yesterday (which I couldn’t be at because of Navy stuff) they placed second all around…and that’s after they marched in a parade (which I marched in with the Navy also)!  I can’t believe the season will be over in a little over a month!  Its gone by so quick.  I guess time flies when you’re having fun!

With teaching at the high school, Navy stuff, and private lessons, my schedule is overflowing.  Here’s what my sched looked like this past week:

calendar

Considering practicing and working out is not included in this, I have NO time for anything else!  I didn’t even get to practice or work out on Wednesday and Thursday!  No time.  Oyyy…and my schedule is very similar in the coming weeks.  Once the HS marching band season is over and Navy Ball season is over, things should clear up a bit.  That’s the hope, anyway.