Thursday, June 10, 2010

Exercising: Part Two

Exercising: Part Two

Ok, the honeymoon period is over. I’ve been going to the gym for three months now, always twice a week, most of the time thrice, and I don’t see any results! My weight is the same and my pants are still tight.

When I moaned to one of the trainers, he asked, “have you noticed anything different?”

I had to recollect, “Well, I can keep up with my husband on our bike rides better.”

“That’s one. Are you doing the same weights as when you started?”

“Well, no, I’m lifting more weight?”

“That’s two.”

“And more reps.”

“That’s three.”

Ok, there has been change, but not enough fast enough. Does that sound like some of your students? For me and fitness, the hard part is about to begin, I must change some habits with my eating: how much and what.

With students the habits are often how they practice. I remember the quote, “if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got."

How often do students play the same part over and over hoping that they will get it right? Then they get it right once and go on. I think my smart students do this the most often because they know that they can “get it.” Then they beat themselves up because they didn’t get it AGAIN. I want to instill in them to “work it” rather than “get it.”

The brain doesn’t discriminate. If you get it wrong four times and right once, the next time the brain has to pick which way to play there is only a 20% chance of getting the correct repetition. I have been told to do cardio for twenty+ minutes. I think when I stop at sixteen minutes it’s like the students stopping after playing a section one time correctly; I’m only giving my body a small chance for success.

When you are practicing and you get it right, do it three more times then the brain has better odds of grabbing the correct version. When I’m working on a section I go for three times in a row or ten times total. I came up with that because some days I just couldn’t get it that third time, and I didn’t want to be a failure.

For my students, I rephrased it in a more positive way that actually is less stressful and makes it a game with the potential of a reward: play it ten times correct, and if you get it three times in a row, you can stop. For myself it works better too! I have a more playful attitude, seeing if I can buck the system to get that third time. Rousing my rebel spirit gets the adrenaline going: I work better, more efficiently and for longer stretches.

Often, when I think “nothing” is different, what I’m really saying is, “I haven’t reached my goal.” To really address that I need to determine why. Usually, it’s because my goal and my habits can’t coexist. Then I need to be honest and ask some hard questions. What needs do my habits serve? Is that need still relevant? Am I ready to move beyond what I think I am to what I can become? Can I deal with some discomfort? What needs will reaching my goal satisfy? Are those needs mine or someone else’s? (Often a parent, partner, teacher, peer, religious leader or social mores impose values on us, that we don’t question.) What am I willing to spend (money, time, effort, sacrificing an easy pleasure) to achieve my goal?

Sometimes the answers are something we don’t want to hear—we aren’t ready or willing to change, the price is too high, the goal wasn’t really our own… Then it’s time to move on. Don’t hold on to a goal because you think you should. Sometimes the answers support the goal and free up energy to accomplish them with ease.

The next time you or your student thinks nothing has changed, look back and be honest. You might not have reached your goals yet, but I’m sure you can find at least three things that are different.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Daily Musing: piccolo Cedar Flute

I let the scale of this small version of a Native American cedar flute take me where it wanted to.
Listen Here

This Is It

Yes, I know this movie was released Oct. 2009. Ok, if I'm a little behind the times. (I'm used to that.) Sure it might be an overly positive posthumous reflection on Michael Jackson. But you know what—it inspired me. It made me honor being a performer, reminded me to take charge of producing my vision and that I entertain for the audience, not myself.

Steve and I watched all of the extras. The music director said that Michael stated, “We use our gifts to help other people find their gifts.” Wow! Maybe that’s why people have idols. Maybe that’s what mythic figures and Hindu gods are—beings that recognize their gifts so that others may see a way to access theirs.

When I watch MJ dance, I love how he stops. It’s the silence after the stop that grabs me. There is such a presence of pulling in all of the energy to that point, that a void is created. That void creates a combination of suspense and sustain at the same time.

Listening to him sing “Human Nature,” I just loved how the second utterance of “why” comes on the and of two. Musically it creates that same experience. Yes, there is the push of energy and surprise from the syncopation; if you divide the 4/4 measure into eighths notes, that syncopation actually creates a wonderfully arrhythmic 3/8 & 5/8. Still, for me the beauty is in the absence of the expected pulse—the void.

The movie showed a wonderful duality of him listening at times and asserting his vision at others. When his earphones were too loud, he was visibly upset, but took the stance that he would have to get used to it. He was so generous with those who worked with him. Yet he took control. He wanted to cue the start of a song that would line up with a video change behind him. When the director asked MJ how he would do that without seeing the video, MJ simply said that he would feel when to come in. He knew when insisting on creating what he wanted would raised the bar for all involved, and when being directed was the right thing for the sake of the show.

You can see MJ dance and you know it’s him. It’s his style. At times though, it seemed his moves weren’t appropriate to the song lyrics, and it looked like his dance was a caricature of himself. I often wonder when is something we do our style or our habit? I’m always looking to play differently: to stretch myself and my ears. Sometimes that’s great. At other times it ties me in a knot because everything sounds like something I’ve heard or done before. Then there’s the dilemma of giving the audience what they want.

There’s a song that Steve and I play, “I Wanna Be Like You” from the Disney movie the Jungle Book. It started around a camp fire one Thanksgiving. We were goofing around and I took a flute solo singing and playing with ingressive singing that sounded like a monkey. It was fun, and loved by all. That was four years ago, and now my challenge is to still play my “monkey” solo while keeping it fresh for me. Sometimes it works better then others. Through my doubts and negative self-talk I keep coming back to, “Ellen, just play what you hear (or feel) and keep practicing so that you have the chops to do it!”

I look forward to reading some comments about how other musicians, actors, dancers, stay true to their inner searching while developing a style at the same time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Daily Musing: Improv on Harmonics

Hi There,
still working out the kinks, so here's another improv from last year.
Listen Here

Daily Musing: Parakeet Lullaby

Hi There,
Here's another improv that I created last year for my baby birdies. (I'm practicing uploading my improv's. Come back to get a new improv each morning!!)
Listen Here

Daily Musing: Headjoint Breathing

Hi There,
Here's another improvisation. Warning, some say it's scarey. Listen with the lights on!
Listen Here

Daily Musing: Long Tone Improvisation

Hi there!
This is the first of my daily musings. Please enjoy.
Listen here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Butterfly Effect

I was going to continue my line of thought about the correlations between exercise and practice, but I just listened to a podcast (and viewed the slide show) of a chimp named Lucy and her reluctant caretaker, Janis Carter. So, the exercise blog will have to wait!

In a nutshell, this story is about humans “experimenting” with apes to see how much of the human culture—including emotional connection, can be passed along to primates. The photos are like anyone’s children’s photos, but the last photo of Janis and Lucy’s embrace (esp. after I learned how Lucy met her untimely death) still brings tears when I think about it.

The emotional affect the story had on me was not just about the chimp, but also about Janis. She and the Temerlins, who adopted the chimp, went to Africa to drop off the ape in a nature preserve because Lucy had gotten too big, strong etc. to keep. The Temerlins left and Janis stayed, supposedly for just a few weeks at most, to help Lucy transition. Janis is still there.

It’s funny that I heard this story just a few days after the news cast about the Russian boy that was sent back because his adopted parents couldn’t handle him. I am also reminded of Gordon Parks mentioning in his book Half Past Autumn, that though his photojournalism brought awareness to the plights of families in poverty in general, it often ruined the family that he focused his lens on.

All of these stories affect me because the pursuits of one person had a ripple effect on those they engaged with. The “destiny” of some seemed to be altered by another’s actions. What does this have to do with music? (First more stories.)

I am reminded of a dermatologist who told me that he picked this field of medicine because he knew that he would never kill anyone. I heard this when I was a first year college student (17 years old) and I wondered if being a musician was also free from incurring mortal infractions.

Several friends have told me how they picked their field of study because of the enthusiasm of the teacher. I wonder if I’ve changed the trajectory of anyone’s life because of my enthusiasm for music.

Whether we are playing the background music for a wedding, party, funeral or coffee house with only three people working on their laptop, I believe that we are affecting the energies in the space. It is no less important to play from your soul when you think no one is listening, as it is when you play the music that will allow people to grieve.

I feel that teaching the student that is not a high achiever, but gains a sense of self from playing, can be more important than giving the proper technique to the one that will go on to be a music major. Then there are the students that are working for a 4+ grade average for whom music is a respite from the pressures of studying. When students come back to say hello (after years away), I’m amazed by the most significant lesson stories they tell. (It has NEVER been the story I thought they would tell.)

I think it’s important that we are always up front about our intentions and emotions. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll tell my students at the beginning of the lesson, “If I seem a bit short today, it’s not because of you. I’m not feeling very well. “ I’ll ask the student what they want to learn so that I can help them discover the tools that they can understand and use. I’ve even told the last student of the day that she is unfortunately the last and if she has her lessons well prepared that will help me stay awake!

Finally, our own practice: it can be our discipline, or meditation; our solace or mental stimulation; where we bring our joy and discoveries to fruition; where we work through and into new awareness and capacities—intellectually and emotionally.

We never know whom we will touch or how their life will play out because of our influence. I can only go about my work with joy and love and honor my connection with others.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Practice weight lifting

I've joined a gym. Yes, the over 50 year old love handles finally got to me. And you know what? It's making me think differently about my practicing. Isn't practicing a training? How can we expect to play pieces without doing the lifting and the cardio?

My gym is great. They know me by name; say hello & goodbye. I love the weights: the specific targeting of muscle groups. We had a talk about cardio's optimum fat burning minutes, and to my sadness I learned that cardio burns fat most effectively after 20 minutes! Uuugh! I get bored after 10 minutes! So, today, I started breathing: 4 in, 4 out. When I got bored I went to 5 in, 5 out. Tomorrow, I'll bring a metronome & practice my double tonguing as I push the steps on the eliptical.

This got me thinking about practice. What if I thought about exercises as targeting specific muscle groups, and the etudes and pieces as cardio? Right now, my major musical muscle groups (relating to the weights) are:
Tone (Abs)
Fingers (legs)
Tonguing (arms)
Extended techniques
Rhythm & sight reading

My subgroups are:
Tone: 1) Long tones; 2) whistle tones; 3) harmonics; 4) vibrato; 5) dynamics
Fingers: 1) Major scales; 2) minor scales; 3) chromatic scale; 4) whole tone scales; 5) octatonic scales; 6) interval work (on any/all of the scales); 7) arpeggios; 8) trills
Tonguing: 1) double tonguing; 2) triple tonguing
Extended techniques: 1) singing while playing; 2) multiphonics; 3) microtones; 4) percussive effects

If I do an hour circuit in the gym every other day, and 20 - 30 min. of cardio the alternating days, what about doing the same in my flute practice? I can make sure that I do my "weights" (exercises) and "cardio" (pieces) every other day for an hour & cardio for 20-30 min. on the alternating days.

After all, if we are playing and teaching, we need to have our best flute fitness! Good luck, let me know what you think & if you have other exercises to include. Next post, I'll list some of my circuit combinations.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My First Blog

What a whirlwind beginning to 2010. This is the first blog and I hope that you continue to check in.

Great things are happening. The Los Angeles Flute Orchestra will be playing Saturday, Aug. 14, 7pm before the major concert at the National Flute Association's convention in Anaheim. Also at the convention, on Fri. the 13th, I'll be conducting a flute choir reading session.

The LA Collective has met twice with great success, brain stretching & fun.
Yesterday, April 11 the artists that attended were musicians: Jeff Swartz bass, Laura Osborn flute & banjo, Oz stick, Stephen "Breeze" Smith drum set/percussion, Scott Heustis electric guitar, Bruce Friedman trumpet, Charlie Lowrey hand percussion, with dancer Cheryl Banks-Smith.

The first free jam was beautiful. We could have just playing. However, I had an hour of exercises where we played with time--creating one sound between all of us; randomly attacking quick notes right after someone else; dividing up time into 2 or 3 & picking one subdivision of a bar of 3. We all felt that when we were "thinking" so much we couldn't connect harmonically or energetically with each other. My attempt was to have some strict parameters on intellectual exercises to push our "tools" so that when we go into a free improv. situation we will be able to go to deeper more complex places.

One of the most exciting things for me was Cheryl's dance moves being treated as if it were a sound. One of the least successful things was everyone having their own 2 or 3 subdivision. There was no "grooviness" and it was too loud & muddled. A common pulse was not established.

Next session (April 25) we will have exercises all based around picking up on cues from other players. This is an exciting project, because there are 18 sessions so we don't have to do everything each time. We can actually focus on one aspect of improvising, and push our limits. We can find out what may work, what doesn't and grow beyond our natural inclinations. No soundbytes here! The collective is open to all artists: musicians, dancers, actors, visual, writers...