Thursday, October 27, 2016

Music as a Language: Victor Wooten at TEDxGabriolaIsland

Victor Wooten is an innovator, composer, arranger, producer, vocalist, and multiinstrumentalist. He has been called the greatest bass player in the world. He is a skilled naturalist and teacher, a published author, a magician, husband and father of four, and a five-time Grammy award winner.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Performance Anxiety Part 2

So the start to my tournament career as an amateur disc golfer was rough.  I enjoyed the physical challenge that the tournaments presented and I enjoyed the people I got to meet and befriend.  But for quite some time I didn't understand why it was that I performed so poorly in the tournaments compared to casual play.  Why couldn't I sink those putts?

I was reading an interview with the number one disc golfer in the world (he's like the Tiger Woods of disc golf) and he made an offhand comment about how he's really not playing to win.  He tries to play the best game he can and if that happens to be good enough to win then so be it.

When I read that I realized that guy was really on to something.  By just playing your game you remove all of the pressure of having to be better or best.  You can just enjoy trying to play well.  And, in turn, having a better head game improves your performance.

As you can guess, this obviously had a positive effect on how I performed at future tournaments.  No, I didn't suddenly become the number one ranked female in the world.  But the whole experience just turned out better.  I played consistently.

The best surprise for me, however, was how this shift in mentality affected my music performance.  Because music is not a scored game I was blissfully unaware as to how much this idea of being "better" had seeped into my performance mindset.

I'm not sure how much the technical execution of my performance changed but mentally the experience had significantly changed.  I was in the moment, concerned only with playing my part well.  In other words, I actually enjoyed performing.  It wasn't just a task that I learned how to cope with after years of conditioning.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Performance Anxiety Part 1

My husband and I both love disc golf.  It's something that we both started together as beginners together so it became "our" thing to do as a couple.  We eventually got to the point after playing for a few years that I wanted to attempt playing in a disc golf tournament.  He was a bit more hesitant than me but I insisted, arguing that it would be a fun way to really test our skills.

I've written a few posts before about how playing disc golf taught me the value of muscle memory.  But during our first few tournaments we both quickly discovered a whole new category of unexplored skills: performing under pressure.  To be blunt, we both stunk.

As a musician, I was no stranger to performing.  I've lost count of how many solo/orchestra/chamber performances I've done.  Before that first tournament I had assumed that performance anxiety wouldn't affect me because of said experience.  I was just going out there to have fun, right?

Well, I was.  But the thing I hadn't counted on was the tournament environment.  Having fun was important but suddenly I also wanted to win!  I couldn't just play anymore, I had to be better than the other people in my division.  In trying to be better I became very focused not only on my game but also in watching how the others were doing.

"Well she just missed that putt so if I can make this crazy long putt right now, I'll gain a stroke on her."

I feel that it's very natural for this kind of mentality to surface in a competitive environment.  After all, the point of competition is to win, right?  But you can see how the thought process becomes toxic.  I was not only putting pressure on myself to perform beyond my abilities but I was also judging my abilities against other people rather than what I had actually accomplished during my own casual play.  If I only make 20 foot putts 1 out of every 15 shots during casual play, odds are good that I am going to miss the shot during a tournament.

But because I wanted to win missing the shot caused frustration.  This frustration led to more missed shots.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Benjamin Zander: The transformative power of classical music

TED Talk

Benjamin Zander has two infectious passions: classical music, and helping us all realize our untapped love for it -- and by extension, our untapped love for all new possibilities, new experiences, new connections.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Music Library

The conductor of my high school youth symphony loved to talk.  One could say his long-winded lectures made him infamous among those students who worked with him.  Being a teenager at the time most of the stuff he said went in one ear and out the other for me.  It was a Saturday morning and a three hour rehearsal.  My caring was... not there.

But there was one lecture that he gave that actually did have something of an impact on me.  I remember the brass section had just completely fudged the section we were trying to play and basically my conductor was like, "This is a really important section for the brass.  You guys need to know how it impacts the rest of the orchestra."

This segued into the long-winded lecture about the importance of having a music library if you were a musician.  Now this was before YouTube (I'm dating myself here).  So collecting classical music was actually kind of a big deal.  Most stores only wanted to sell the popular stuff.  Finding three or four different versions of one particular symphony took some searching.

What actually made this particular lecture stick in my memory was that the gist of what he was saying was not only about knowing your part but also because having a collection makes you have a sense of ownership over the piece.  You've gone out of your way to collect the music and that establishes a connection to it.

Now, years later, I'm realizing how important that is for a young musician.  Ironically, the lesson still applies even with the dawn of YouTube.  YouTube and other online sites have made music gloriously accessible.  I love how easy it is to find music these days.  I love it when a student comes into his lesson and tells me about something he found online.

But listening to a recording once online does not establish that same sense of ownership.  Music has to become "your music."  This is a much, much deeper level of listening than casually streaming the "best of" list on Spotify.

All musicians should work on building up their music library.  And with this means having the ability to listen.  Crummy speakers on a laptop work in a pinch but they don't replace the fuller sound of a nice sound system.

Now I'm not saying go out and drop thousands of dollars on new albums and a surround sound system.  I'm merely pointing out the importance of this aspect to musical training.  We are studying sound art.  As with any art, exploring other artists and paying attention to the details others have added matters.  Just as how a painter should eventually care about paint and canvass quality, a musician should care about the quality of a listening experience.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Limitless Brain

I don't believe the brain has a limit to the amount of new information it can process.  Even if science eventually proves me wrong, I don't care.  I love the idea of a limitless brain.

Perhaps I should explain what I mean by "limitless brain."  I think that most people--myself included--have an image of themselves.  I'm not talking about body image.  I'm talking more about what we see as our place in the world.  For most people the type of work that we do shapes a large part of this image.

For example, you might see yourself as an "office worker" type rather than a "manual labor" type.  It's not that either profession is bad, it's just how you see yourself.  Most of the time an "office worker" would look for other office job positions should the need to change companies arise.  It's not that you are incapable of doing a manual labor job, it's just not how you think of yourself.

"Of course I wouldn't look for a construction job if I worked in an office," you might argue.  "I have experience working in an office, why would I restart at the bottom?"

And you would be completely right.  I would be the first to agree that it's absolutely necessary to acquire skills and take the time to refine them.  But there is an unexpected consequence to this refining process.  As we age and spend more time refining a certain set of skills we being to think that those skills are the only skills we are capable of learning.  We transform from a person that has limitless opportunities to start fresh in different jobs into someone that is limited to just one job.

While the brain itself does change as we age, most of these limitations are self-inflicted.  The only reason why we don't see ourselves in any other capacity is because we consciously refuse to envision possibility.

A good example of this would be when most adult students start a musical instrument.  They usually begin instruction because they want a hobby and are interested in music.  But 99% of the time they have already shut off the possibility of being "a violinist."  They are "retired" (or whatever) and they just "happen to take lessons."  This is a self-imposed limitation.

If learning is approached from the opposite direction it completely changes the experience.  Children take one violin lesson and they immediately consider themselves to be "violinists."  If anyone were to ask them they would say, "I play the violin."  They don't question their proficiency and this is what makes the possibilities endless.  Their mindset starts with "I am a violinist" and everything that follows is just ways to become a "better violinist."  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale

Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale, using audience participation, at the event "Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus".