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

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Studio De Chaos

IMG_1432Studio de Chaos is open for business starting in September. Its been a long year plagued with uncertainty and injury and lessons. Many many lessons.  Here is what I have learned:

1. I am not me if I am not playing guitar let alone teaching music.

2. This injury I have has basically put me at level zero of playing.  I do not sound like how I should. However, its given me a gift – I now know and understand the frustrations of the beginner.  The callouses, the awkward hand positions, the inconsistencies, the triumph of getting that measure perfect 4 times in a row, just to blow it on times 5-19 to get it almost right again on attempt #20.  Empathy is a good thing, and will get me back to where I need to be – at least on the teaching end of it.  Im still working on the patience side (for myself).

3. My imagination hasn’t gone anywhere. My imagination has always been the strongest asset to my guitar career.  I spent an entire year reading books just so I could at least keep one part of guitar game going.  And if my practice session this morning is any indication, its going to be a really fun year of telling stories while we learn some classical music.

4. My mental game may be strong – but my physical one is not – so I need to add more exercise to my daily practice. Strength training – along with a whole lot more physiotherapy here we come!

Im getting excited about the coming year – I have lots of ideas, and I am super excited to share them with new students.  And for everything that I have lost, I have gained so much more.

So if you are interested in an unusual approach to studying classical guitar, and live in Vancouver, BC – I may be the solution you are looking for.  Call 604-679-1731 to schedule a lesson. Ask for Laura.

I’m Back, Babies!

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There are very few photos of me where I am smiling or resemble anything that identifies as happiness. And there have been even fewer smiling photos than usual this year.

But today I was given some wonderful news, I saw my orthopaedic surgeon – who gave me the go ahead to play guitar *regularly*. Some of you may know that I am a classical guitarist, who has for the last several months (which felt like 10 years) has not been able to play due to a bone fragment from my elbow wrecking havoc with the ulnar nerve.

I got the swelling down to an almost manageable amount (its decreased in size by half), and my movement is good. Although, I am still struggling with rotation of my arm, in both directions.  There is not a whole lot of feeling in my fingertips -but that should come back in time.

I probably should mention that I am playing because of twice weekly physio and acupuncture sessions, and once a week lesson in Alexander Technique. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I am celebrating this milestone. I have worked hard. HARD!

Anyway, today is a really special day  – I am excited and happy.  I sound absolutely terrible, but I must tell you – its the most glorious sound in the world.

I practiced for 28 minutes. 17 of those minutes were actually spent playing.  I aim to be playing an hour a day, by the end of September.

Im so happy.

Rainy Days and Mentors

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I have a mentor. Or I had a mentor when I had a business. I guess now you could call him a friend who is much wiser than most of the people I know. He is kinda sage like. He also understands the way my brain works, which makes him unusual. Basically he is around to bounce ideas off of. And then helps me focus the ideas into something real or at least something a bit more focused (after a couple hours of chaotic brainstorming). Sometimes he puts ideas into my head. But usually the conversation between us starts off like 2 bouncing balls – they start out manageable – but with each bounce they get more and more excited and out of control.

Its been exactly a year since I decided to shut down my studio (which I closed in July of 2016), and I have spent this past year walking around in a daze. I have been so lost. I have ideas, but they don’t stick. I want to move to Spain – but I don’t have the money – because Im paying off studio debt and trying to save during this time, has proven impossible. I have wanted to relaunch the studio into something a bit different, something a bit entrepreneurial – but every time I seriously start thinking about it, I talk myself out of it.  And honestly, I really don’t want to work with children anymore- so its probably best that I just lay it to rest.

So to mark the one year anniversary of me making a decision – the mentor/sage/friend comes over to have a chat. Or give a tough love talk. The tough love talks take place during a walk in the rain. This is how it plays out (in actual fact, having tough talks and walking in the rain is a lesson he learned from me):

Mentor (him)- Lets go for a walk. Leave the umbrella inside.
Laura (me)- Im not up for it.
Mentor – Im not asking you.
Laura – …. sigh fine.
M  – You are not 14 and I am not your mother.  Lets go!

M-(starts singing a song about an oyster whose greatest dream is to be a part of a gourmet meal to be eaten).
L- smiles a little.  joins in but I don’t know the words so I just make them up. I suspect he has written the song -but the tune is too good to be his.
M- Stops singing.  Ready to talk?
L. I guess. But I don’t have anything to say. I wasted the year, and I still don’t know what to do.
M. Ready to listen?
L- …..
M- Do something. Anything. If you don’t want to teach, don’t teach. Build skyscrapers out of lego if you want. Do anything but stop sulking. Tired of kids – thats ok. Kids are tiring and sometimes boring.
L-I just cant figure out what comes next, nothing feels right.

M- The universe is telling you to let go of this dream for awhile. You are injured- you cant even play guitar.You want to continue on this path? Because Im telling you – you have been here before.You either do something different, or you will stay in this place forever, and I know that isn’t what you want.The last time this happened – you changed the way you taught music – and it was completely unique. Change it again. Either musically or non-musically. Just change it.
L- OK
M-What are you going to do?
L-Stops walking and stares at a puddle. I am completely soaked by this point. I shake off some of the water, wipe off my glasses – look at the mentor and say – what do you think I should do?

M.  I think you should write a book. What do you think you should do?
—-
This isn’t the first time this has come up. Well, its the first time this has come up with him. But the suggestion isn’t a new one. I could probably be a fairly ok children’s book author. But his suggestion was to write a book about my method of teaching. A sort of manual – but in a reflective style.

I don’t know how to write a book. Other than starting with an outline, I know next to nothing about writing. But I’ve been thinking about this for several hours now, and I haven’t talked myself out of anything. I haven’t talked myself into anything either, but that’s neither here nor there.

The mentor strikes again.

*Photo Source – somersetman via flickr

The Fortune Cookie

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Do you pay attention to advice that comes out of nowhere.  Do you read your horoscope  -take fortune cookies seriously. Do you say out loud to yourself “if I only had a sign” – and then 200 black crows fly over your head.  What do you choose to listen to and why?  Why the crows and not the fortune cookie? I personally am not one for horoscopes, I used to have a friend who would write me a daily horoscope, but that was based more on who I am and not how the stars were aligned that day.

But back to the fortune cookie. A few weeks ago, my fortune in a Valentine’s Day dinner was “Investigate the new opportunity that will soon become an option”. I could have read that as a romantic opportunity, but I chose to think of it in a business sense. You see, I have had this idea for quite some time now, and that was to expand my teaching practice into something a bit more entrepreneurial. To open up a shop that focused on music, art, and storytelling mixed with some other mediums. We would hold workshops, and camps, and afternoon or morning special events (birthday parties etc). Its a really good idea – and its based off of the camps I held with Studio de Chaos (if you don’t know what that is – trust me, it was awesome). Somewhere along the line I got frightened.  Probably because my studio closed last year, due to rising operating costs and me feeling stressed and unsettled about the direction the studio was headed. So I shelved the idea.

But last night, I found myself in front of Small Business BC (in front of a huge sign that said “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” Exactly!  What the hell am I waiting for. If I want to start something, the time to do it is now.  The office happened to be closed when I got there, but I spent a good 15 minutes looking inside, to see if inspiration would hit. And it did. I could totally see myself doing what I had originally planned. And the excitement returned.  I made a mental note of their hours, and promised myself that I would return next week, to talk to someone.

In the light of day, and a not so solid sleep -I woke to discover that I really don’t want to work with children anymore (children being the target audience who would most likely use my services).  And so I am back to where I started. I have a great idea, but I am not so sure its a good fit for me anymore, and I need someone to bounce some ideas off of, in order to figure out what I actually should be doing.

Fortune cookies are wise, and confusing.


 

 

What Pupi Lopez Taught Me

img_0837At Christmas, I received a portable turntable stereo as a gift – something I had wanted for a long time, but it wasn’t a necessity- and so I had put off buying one. A few days later, I realized the gift wasn’t in the actual record player – it was the collection of music that I inherited from my parents and grandparents.  Some of it, I was already familiar with – there was top 40 music from the 80s, K-tel compilations, a bunch of punk records my brother used to listen to, a ton of classical music that was mine- scourged from library sales and used book and record stores, and some of it was stuff I remembered my parents playing, from when I was a kid – Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, Miriam Makeba, Harry Belafonte, and Broadway musicals.  But mixed in with those beloved treasures – are records that I never expected to find. Chestnuts such as Pupi Lopez and his Orchestra (see photo), something that can only be listened to on a July evening -while cooking hotdogs under the patio lights – with a fizzy pink drink (or cold beer) in hand.  Music that instantly makes you smile because you must dance, and must drink, and must laugh, and must drink some more. Music that requires a celebration.

I regard music as its own activity. When its playing, I sit and actively listen to it. I don’t often do other activities when I am listening. Sometimes I will walk – but I don’t listen to music when I’m working, it’s too easy to stop working and only pay attention to what I am listening to.  Of course I will play music when I’m dancing- but that isn’t really listening is it. I don’t purchase music for purposes other than listening. And I had forgotten that there was a time, when that is how one listened to music. You would gather your friends over – and listen (and probably dance) to the new Elvis record- or what have you. Pupi Lopez reminded me this morning, that I need to learn to enjoy music on a different level. A social level. Listening is not a solitary activity. I can only imagine that my  grandparents had a good time when they listened to music (if this was a staple of their collection). And I know that my parents did too – I certainly remember them throwing parties with my dad breaking out his record collection – and they and their friends would dance up a storm in our basement.

I dont have room to throw dance parties or backyard BBQs – but there is no reason why we can’t have a bit of fun. No reason that Wednesday evenings have to be spent listening to Coronation Anthems, and Flute Sonatas, and Fantasias.  We can throw a bit of cha-cha music on, just for fun.

The Calling Card

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While I am taking a break from a creative life, I don’t want the people I have worked with to forget about me.  So I decided to send out Valentine’s Day cards (like the ones we gave to everyone in our fourth grade class). The postage is easily more expensive than these little cards, but I thought it would make my former clients smile a little.

I chose to send Disney Princesses, because the majority all of my clients (aka students) were between the ages of 4 and 17. A lot of them are girls who are just crazy about these ladies, and it will make the boys that I taught roll their eyes and laugh, and say something along the lines of, “ugh Laura is such a marshmallow”. Yes I am!  I am also determined to be remembered fondly; so that whenever the next venture starts, these people and their friends are going to get in line to sign up- or sing my praises – or whatever. But they most certainly will not forget about me. If the memories of our times together fade – the weird little mailers I send are going to remind them that those lessons really were the good old days.

I don’t really subscribe to the whole Disney Princess thing, I was more into going to the beach, and seeing if I could dig all the way to China, and explore new lands along the way, then dressing up in gowns and tiaras, but whatever you are into is fine with me. However, this got me thinking, if I was going to be a Disney Princess who would I be? So l took a quiz, and…

No I didn’t take a quiz. Of course I didn’t. I am the least princess like person on the planet. And I am happy enough not being one. I’m kind, independent, smart, and interesting in my own way. I don’t need the tiara. I just don’t want to be forgotten.