Practicing

Not to miss: Winners' Concert of the Young Musicians' Prizes—FRIDAY!

The culminating moment of the 30th Edition of the Portuguese Young Musicians' Prizes, the most prestigious national competition, now celebrating its 30th edition, will be the "Winners' Concert", Friday, September 23rd at 9:30pm at the Gulbenkian in Lisbon.

Happily, there is a flutist among the 1st-prize winners, the fabulous Mafalda Carvalho, who will perform the first movement of the Nielsen Concerto with the Gulbenkian Orchestra. Having been on the flute jury again this year, I can vouch for the very high level of all the candidates—and tell you that the flute competition (Senior level) was the most contested of all the instrumental competitions, with 32 candidates submitting recordings for the first round. So an extra bravo for all who entered, putting in hours of preparation and work. There is never anything to lose if you are invested in the work, even if you don't take home a prize, and much to be gained, namely "grit" and  experience!

Those not in Lisbon can hear the concert live on Antena 2, but tickets for the concert are FREE, on a first-come, first-served basis, so get there early and DON'T MISS THE SHOW! And let's give all our flute-community support to Mafalda! I'll have more on Mafalda tomorrow; stay tuned!

Mafalda Carvalho, 1st-Prize Winner, Senior Flute Category, Young Musicians' Prizes, 2016

Mafalda Carvalho, 1st-Prize Winner, Senior Flute Category, Young Musicians' Prizes, 2016

Back in the saddle!

I've been enjoying the last gasp of Summer, before things really get rolling next week! Of course practicing anyway, but also had a short trip out of town to catch up with my European cousins and stock up on inspiration!

As we all get "back in the saddle" (Wild-West terminology still in the language!) here's some advice I even hope to follow myself: spend not too much time in the "comfort" zone, nor too much time in the "impossible, panic-inducing" zone, focussing instead on the "learning" zone in between these two extremes, where we push ourselves without causing panic (and extra tensions). Go steady, enjoy even the mistakes, and progress will come!

Here's a little angel to watch over us all, found on my travels:

Bas-relief by Eleonore Blount

Bas-relief by Eleonore Blount

Zen and the Art of Returning to Practice

It is September! A new season beckons, full of plans as well as many unscheduled surprises! The feeling of "back-to-school" permeates the air, and in spite of the implied work, it is somehow invigorating!

A rather Zen-style tactic that I find helpful after some rest is to focus not on the audible results of my playing straight away, but rather to disconnect from the goal and focus on the elements that will help me to arrive at that goal: good posture and body use, relaxed breathing, generous blowing, making corrections to any errors encountered with a low-stress attitude, and connecting to the pleasure of music-making through improvisation or sight-reading. Even while gradually adding in the "menu" of required exercises, studies or pieces, this Zen attitude can be encouraged and you may be surprised by…the results!

Here's a photo to remind us of the joy and wonder of making music!

"What is making that noise?"

"What is making that noise?"

Indulge! (It's August 31st…)

All of a sudden it is the last day of August—how did that happen? I would like to say that I did the European thing of taking the month off, but to be honest, musicians rarely take a month off without "paying for it". Do we all know the classic joke? Here goes:

"If you take one day off, you will notice. If you take two days off, your wife will notice. If you take three days off, the whole world will notice." 

So how about we split the difference, we hard-working musicians who appear (I emphasize the word "APPEAR") to just get up and play, and INDULGE ourselves in whatever counts in your book as an indulgence? It could even be a healthy indulgence (though I think that should count less, no?), but here's the remainder of my little indulgence for the day. Tomorrow is September, and I'm gonna need all the boost I can get!

It's amazing how good these still are…

It's amazing how good these still are…

ESART - Line Up Your Ducks!

Dear prospective students of Superior Courses in Music: this blog entry is FOR YOU! In English we have an (odd) expression: "lining up your ducks". This means getting all the preparation you need organized BEFORE the moment of an audition or applying for a course of study. 

I cannot stress how important this is for those trying to enter into Superior-level Music Courses; these have become highly competitive in recent years, and aside from preparing your playing audition, you ought to prepare to the best of your ability for the written exams, especially including the REQUIRED NATIONAL EXAM(S). Take note: these requirements can and DO change with some regularity, and it is NOT EASY to keep up with the changes. However, you simply must, or you risk being accepted and then not being able to matriculate for lack of an exam or lack of passing an exam. 

This may seem unfair, but at the same time, you should realize that all University-level courses are highly underwritten (i.e. paid for) by the government, and so it would be normal to expect incoming students—"even" in music, art, etc.—to be functional in Portuguese and so forth! So, practice, yes, indeed, but also: LINE UP YOUR DUCKS!

ESART - Flute class, c. 2015

ESART - Flute class, c. 2015

Vital Signs

I've had the good fortune this week of meeting and talking with the American pianist Nelson Ojeda Valdès, a fellow native of Los Angeles, California (which I don't come across too often here in Lisbon!) He's a friend of also-originally-from-LA pianist Raj Bhimani, who is also here in Lisbon rehearsing for upcoming concerts of Syrinx: XXII, so it's been a California-on-the-Tejo week for me!

Nelson, who is very active in New York as a performer, teacher and adjudicator, has a succinct way to refer to the two basic impulses of music, pulse and breath, calling them the "vital signs". He means that pulse and breath are just as necessary to music as they are to bodily survival; we performers should always strive to communicate these elements clearly to the listener, just as our bodies clearly need both pulse and breath to maintain life. 

Of course, pulse is fundamental—we all know the magic when music makes us tap our foot or want to dance along—and I always love to hear a non-wind-player talking about breathing in relation to music and phrasing. Of course, we flutists and wind players MUST breathe, but the bottom line is that the MUSIC must breathe (even Wagner, eventually…). Nelson's concept helps put the issue of breath on the right footing, as something good and desirable, rather than a necessary evil—I love it!

Post-rehearsal R&R with pianists Raj Bhimani and Nelson Ojeda Valdès

Post-rehearsal R&R with pianists Raj Bhimani and Nelson Ojeda Valdès

On the Road to Success…

If ever a picture is worth a thousand words, this is one! Found it on FaceBook somewhere (thank you, Universe) and it's priceless. Especially for us musicians—we've been playing for X years and we're STILL practicing? Yup! Alas, there are no shortcuts… 

So the only solution is to enjoy the actual practicing, the preparation, the "slog", while we wait for the results to come. The more we focus on the process, enjoying it and even finding a passion for it, the sooner we'll be taken by surprise — in a positive sense — and by "success"!

Words of wisdom…

Words of wisdom…

4th Summer Flute Academy - Radio Days

While I was hard at work doing the morning warm-up session ("Zapping Warmup") on the fourth day of the 4th Summer Flute Academy, my dear colleagues Stephanie Wagner and Raquel Lima, along with Academy student Catarina Rebelo Esteves, were over in Gaia having a blast being interviewed for RDP's Antena 2, the Portuguese national classical music radio. (Yes, this is Europe and we have stuff like that!).

Our team went in super-prepared to explain the multifaceted approach of the Academy, and I believe the mission was achieved, and we thank Paulo Guerra for the invitation to present our project on his bright-and-early program called “Império dos Sentidos” ("The Empire of the Senses")—how's that for a nice description of our ephemeral art?

Here's a photo of Catarina, an ESART Master's student and a repeat Academy participant, looking totally at home in the sound studio! (PS, if anyone can find the link to the interview, please let me know! It was Thursday 28th of July).

Flutist Catarina Rebelo Esteves, bright and early in the Antena 2 studio

Flutist Catarina Rebelo Esteves, bright and early in the Antena 2 studio

Itzhak Perlman: Masterful Advice on Practicing and More

While we may possibly be enjoying NOT PRACTICING during vacation, I find it inspiring to get "fuel" for the next season. So I was delighted to come across this fabulous site, ClassicFM, which happens to have five very short videos of Itzhak Perlman, the great violinist, giving advice on practice (how much, and how), dealing with nerves, and building a career in music.

Perlman's manner of speaking is as easy, natural, and expressive as his way of playing the violin. If you don't know his playing, check out his website—I'd guess he's been at the top of the top for about 50 years!

Here's the link to the videos on ClassicFM, enjoy!

The world-renowned violinist, Itzhak Perlman. 

The world-renowned violinist, Itzhak Perlman. 

The Importance of Being (like) Bill Cunningham

You may notice in the sidebar a link to the New York Time's series on street fashion called "On the Street", and wonder what on Earth that has to do with music and flute-playing! The answer is: indirectly, A LOT!

"On the Street" is a regular feature of the NY Times, and for nearly 40 years it has been written and photographed by the inimitable Bill Cunningham. His narration of the videos can cheer up your worst day by the sheer enthusiasm he has for his subject (clothes, form, color, NY City) and his subjects (everyone from fashion-plates to ordinary New Yorkers to some truly outlandish dressers). In a way, his enthusiasm is for…enthusiasm! Meaning, if you're going to do something (like get dressed, or play the flute) then DO IT WITH PIZAZZ, do it 100%, and do it in your own way. I think it's easy to apply this to our performing or creative work, too! Otherwise, why bother? Ten Thousand Hours is a lotta time…

Alas, at age 87, Mr. Cunningham passed away in June and has been mourned by his many, many devotees—the photographed and the mere NY Times onlookers (moi). In 2009 he was actually named a Living Landmark, and in 2009 was named to the Legion of Honor by the French Government. However, you can still read about his life and see a slideshow about his work and subjects, or find his cheerful videos on the NY Times site. While we're enjoying the month of August, it's good to stock up on inspiration for the next season, no?

A Bill Cunningham moment backstage in Lisbon: shoes with attitude!

A Bill Cunningham moment backstage in Lisbon: shoes with attitude!