The First Performance

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Today the students of Studio de Chaos are taking the stage to perform some selections they have been working on this term for their friends and families.  It will be a day filled with music, fun, and excitement. But for some, there will be a few hours of anxiety and nerves, and uncertainty.  I have a lot of first time performers this year -who have no idea what to expect.  And these kids are nervous.  Excited but nervous.  Walking into the unknown can be a bit scary.  Explaining what is going to happen can only prepare them for so much, because something different happens to us each time we walk on stage. Sometimes its magical, and sometimes it isn’t. But its always an adventure.  So we take a breath, and hold our heads confidently, and we walk on stage just like we practiced so many times before.

But there are things we can do the day of the performance to make ourselves feel a bit more calm and confident. Here is my to do list on performance day:

  • Eat a breakfast that has not a lot of refined sugar – oatmeal is a good choice.
  • Something warm to drink is always nice, though Im not sure how many six year olds drink tea. But for me, a cup of tea rather than coffee is helpful.
  • Do a short practice in the morning, I would rather you not play the songs you are going to perform this afternoon, but if you feel you need to play them one more time – then do that.  No more than 5 minutes on those songs though.
  • If you are feeling nervous, read a chapter of a fun book.  Or tell someone a few jokes.  Laughter is great for relaxing the nerves.
  • Go for a walk at some point this morning. Pay attention to what you see, smell, and hear.  I expect all of you to be doing this at some point – and I want a report.
  • Most importantly, I want all of you to come prepared with a prank for the reception afterwards – because this holiday will be about fun and pranking!

I understand that sometimes we don’t feel up to playing in front of an audience, and that’s fine. If you feel like you cant do it this time, then stay and watch and learn from some of the other students. And if you feel like going up afterwards – we can arrange that too.  The recital is supposed to be fun.  It doesn’t always have to be serious.  And when the time comes, and you don’t feel like playing the song that we rehearsed, but want to tell a story or a joke, or a dance routine -then that’s fine too.  Anything goes!

The reward will be great today!

*Photo Source – David Vidmar via flickr

 

 

 

 

 

One Year, One Hundred Books

Back in January, I had made a goal of reading 12 books in 2017, mostly because I thought I should be more social.  That didn’t exactly happen. Being social is beyond difficult for me. Staying at home, being quiet (and alone) is preferred. So when I quickly passed my reading goal of 12- I decided to double it, and then double it again, and double it again – and now here we are, almost at the end of the year – and I have just finished my 100th book.

This is what I have discovered from my year of reading:

  • Reading with a number in mind is only fun if you are doing it for sport.  When someone else is doing the same kind of challenge, its fun and a bit bloody. But when they drop out, it gets a bit tiresome.
  • When you fall behind your count goal, and you need some quick reads, it may seem smart to pick some easier books. Im not talking Young Adult or Kids books – because they can be both challenging and awesome. Im talking about crap produced by Charlaine Harris and the like. Don’t fall into this trap. It’s not worth it. No reading goal is worth the pain of reviewing the books you read this year, and seeing those titles pop up. It doesn’t matter that you can read a book in an afternoon. These books are garbage, and they do nothing for your brain. Unless you are on a beach – or you like those kinds of books – don’t let my snobbery or attitude stop you from reading them. They are popular books, they just aren’t my thing.
  • There is a disturbing lack of diversity in my reading this year.  A mistake that I will not make again. I’m quite ashamed of this.
  • The majority of the books I read were fiction – not because I don’t like non-fiction.  Just the opposite actually, I love non-fiction.  But I really felt that I needed to work on my empathy this year, and other than talking to real people – I don’t know of a better way to practice being an empath.
  • Carrying a book with you everywhere will help you to read more.  Also if you like people, they will come up and talk to you about what you are reading. If you choose to read in a pub (I like to do this), be prepared to be called a nerd by drunk patrons.

Here are some stats on the books I have read this year:

  • 47% of the books read were written by women
  •  44% of the books I read, were read on an e-reader,  26% of the books I “read” were audiobooks,  16% were paperbacks, and 14% were hard covered books.
  • Most productive reading month – October – 13 books read
  • Least productive reading month – December – 3 books read (so far)
  • 44% of books read were loaned from the library
  • 20% of books read were memoirs
  • 16% of books read were proper non- fiction
  • pages read 30,656
  • 21 books read were rated 5* (5 being the highest rating possible by me).
  • My favourite book read this year was The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
  • My least favourite book read this year was Love Warrior by Glennon Melton.

If you want to see my list of books that I read this year – here it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly (anything hi-lighted in yellow is an unfinished book, that I plan to finish in 2018).

Or you can find me on Goodreads

 

The Practice

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Playing guitar doesn’t come easy to me these days. Almost all aspects of playing have become challenging – even areas where I once excelled at have become foreign and a bit enigmatic.  Which is why a daily practice has become more important than ever, to me.  I’m slowly adding my old pieces back into my repertoire, but am cautiously adding new to me composers as well.  For someone who has invested almost her entire life to the playing of classical guitar, there are some huge gaps in my knowledge of guitar music. For instance, almost the entire baroque repertoire, with the exception of the Bach cello suites.  So I have added this Weiss Fantasie into my practice.  And surprisingly, I am beginning to love it.

For those of you who are interested – this is what my rehab practice looks like.  I try to get in an hour a day. Sometimes I am unable to play that long – and sometimes I want to play more, but I know that if I push it too much, the pain that will occur will be too much for me to handle, and I will have to take several days off – and I cant afford that.

  • Arpeggio exercises – 10 minutes.  I do this instead of scales, because its easier on my hands, and it gives my brain a workout, when I progress past the standard PIMAMI
  • Sarabande by Francis Poulenc – its a simple piece, but its quite difficult to master.  Its meditative and somber.  It was my dog Charles favourite piece, and when I play it, I can feel him next to me, keeping time with his tail.  Its a great warm up. Usually I play this for 10 minutes.  Trying to get the tone as even as possible.
  • Suite no. 1 – Richard Rodney Bennett – A suite of Pieces for the early intermediate student. Structurally there isn’t much happening, but the soprano and bass voices are written in different keys, which makes playing a bit challenging.  But mostly its brain work. Usually by this point my fingers are warm and about as agile as Im going to get in the practice session.  So the set of pieces usually flows fairly well at this point. – 2 complete tun throughs- plus any extra practice where its needed.
  • I am now halfway through my practice session. At this point I choose a couple of pieces I have had in my repertoire for years, and I choose a passage or 2 in each to deconstruct and re-learn.  I usually do about 10-15 minutes on this.  Usually this is an older contemporary piece, it might go back as far as Mauel de Falla’s Homenaje, or some thing from the Four Pieces by Frank Martin, or probably one of the many pieces I have learned and loved by Leo Brouwer.  The only requirement here, is that it had to be something that was at one time, performance ready – and had to have been played in front of an audience.
  • The remainder of the hour is devoted to new work(s).  I have several in rotation.  Weiss, Bach, Stephen Dodgson, Richard Rodney Bennett, and Scarlatti.  I usually work on a phrase or 2.  Because I usually have between 15-20 minutes left in the session – learning new works is a slow business for me.

This time of regimen is new for me.  I used to be the type of musician who would skip warmups.  I hated scales and other technical exercises (I still do). I didn’t think technique was necessary.  Ah youth – so stubborn, so wrong!  In the past, I was the master mistress of thoughtless practice. I’d just play whatever was sitting on the music stand. I was a really good sight reader, so I didn’t have to think about what I was doing – I just did it, and I could get away with minimal amounts of practice.

Im in a very different situation now, I actually have to think about alternating my fingers. They don’t do it on their own anymore.  When you have to put that much thought into movement, playing becomes laboured, heavy, and clumsy. There really isn’t any way to make it sound good. So you have to look at your practice in a new way.  Instead of reclaiming a new skill. I have chosen to look at is as an adventure through history. Which is why I am trying to close the gaps. It’s going to take me a long time – since I am lucky if I can master 1 single measure of a new piece in one practice.  But if you aren’t aiming to get better, you are getting worse.

So I deem it to be worthwhile.

 

A Very Nerdy Christmas Tree

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First it must be said, I am not a great fan of family holidays. They bring a lot of anxiety for me. Christmas is especially rough.  Most years I try to just ignore it. But this year, if feels like people have been preparing for this holiday since August. And while I am not exactly on jumping on board the Christmas train, I thought I would make the teeniest effort this year.

My apartment building does not allow natural trees, and I will never purchase a fake one.  So I usually go without. This year, due to my lack of bookshelf space more than anything, I decided to make a book tree. It looks a bit haphazard and lopsided, and that it may collapse at any moment, but I assure you it is structurally sound.  Besides I kind of like a quirky and not perfect tree. If you want perfection, go search pinterest– there are plenty of examples that will meet your needs.  But for me, a little chaos and a whole lot of imperfection suits just fine.

If you want to know how I did it – here is the breakdown.

  • Sort your books into 4 piles, large hardcovers, medium and small hardcovers, large paperbacks, and medium and small paperbacks
  • Put your largest book in what you imagine is going to be the centre of the tree.  My largest book is the Random House dictionary from196?  Its humongous!
  • Put your next largest books in a circle with the spines outward- make sure there are spaces in between each book – so that the corners of each are only touching
  • For each layer, lay the book in between the two below it
  • Use your largest books for the first few layers, and then move onto smaller and lighter books the further you go up
  • After you have created a sort of wall around your centre book, put box on top – that you can build your tree around
  • When you have finally reached the top of your tree, you can add a topper -I think most people use a star or an angel
  • Wrap some lights or garland around the tree – remember that if you choose to use lights, that paper is flammable, so make sure you keep an eye on it. Don’t leave the lights plugged in for long periods of time.

What I love about my book tree, is that not only does it free up much needed shelf space, and gives me a constant reminder of my very large to be read list (currently at 57 books), but it helps to remind me that its ok to take some time out for myself, and read or do some other solo activity when Im feeling anxious and overwhelmed.  Plus it lets me display my grandfather’s christmas ornaments from when he was a boy.  The snowman that sits on the top of the tree once belonged to him.  He is missing his nose, and there is a sort of noose around his neck – which is how he is usually hung on the tree – but I wouldn’t change him.  I love him, just how he is.

I have  a lot of books left over, so I think I might rebuild the tree tomorrow, and make it quite a bit taller. Which will give me an opportunity to restring the lights, clearly I need some practice in that area.

In celebration of reading 100 books this year, I rebuilt my tree – so it now consists of all the books I own.  And now it looks like this:

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