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...