|Brillante Music Studio||
|Brillante Music Studio||
Practice Challenge Update | Week #10 of 20
"Go the distance" is an idiom that means to achieve one's goal; to complete something, especially if it is difficult; to persist on a path until it ends, literally or metaphorically. The expression go the distance was used in a literal sense in the 1800's in horse racing to mean to run an entire race. The phrase has also been used in boxing and means the ability to box for an entire round without getting knocked out or disqualified.
Halfway through our 20-week practice challenge, students who have been putting in practice time on a daily basis are starting to see some fruits of their efforts. Just as a mountain climber may not notice the height they've climbed until they reach the summit, so the incremental progress of practice has begun to manifest itself in our lessons this week.
One such example of this is three young women: Audrey, Evelyn and Lucy, who prepared both a solo piece and an ensemble piece for the Minnesota Music Teacher's Association Vocal & Instrumental Festival. Their participation required musical "distance"-additional time spent above their scheduled practice and lesson sessions and concentrated focus to learn and perform new pieces of music. These young women are an example to everyone. They are embracing their passion for music and allowing it to catapult them into high levels of achievement.
Thank you for inspiring us to go the distance and congratulations on your achievements!
Practice Challenge Update | Week #9 of 20
The stroke of midnight of Selection Sunday-it's the hour when one must lock in which teams they (or a reputable Bracketologist) predict will advance in the NCAA March Madness Tournament. There are a ton of factors that determine which team will take away the trophy: who worked the hardest this year? Were there any injuries? Do they have a stellar coach? Do their fans show up for them? Who wants it the most?
The art of music and the art of basketball are not so distant! From a woman who has had the chance to work with some high performing students and communities of parents and friends, here are the components needed to build the Triangle of Success-an unyielding structure indestructible by the competition.
The PLAYER's job...
Show up to practice.
Players who show up and put in the time on a regular and consistent basis are pretty tough to take down. And at the end of the day, no matter how good their coaching is or how supportive their parents are, they are the only ones who can shoot the ball into the basket, play the keys on the piano or sing the phrase of the song. When it's time for the big game, they are confident and ready. *They must communicate their needs to their coach and parents/community.
The TEACHER/COACH's job...
Show up to practice and teach the skills of the task. They guide and challenge the player.
The coach should be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of her players and give them the resources and skill sets to move forward with confidence. The coach strongly believes in her player's abilities. *They must communicate expectations and progress to the player. They must communicate the player's needs and success to the parents/community.
The PARENTS/FRIENDS AND COMMUNITY's job...
Show up to practices and performances to encourage and support the player.
Strong parental and community supporters will commit to the process along with the student and the teacher. They create at-home practice routines for the student and encourage the student in the low moments . They are also the ones shouting and cheering in the front row. *They communicate their expectations to the student and the student's needs and success to the teacher.
Being a private music student can sometimes feel like a lonely endeavor, but when the team of coaches and community are fully engaged, the journey becomes not only fun, but successful, too.
Practice Challenge Update Week #8 of 20
Student musicians composed original pieces about their pets then performed them at our Tiny Screen concert.
It was furrr-tastic!
Practice Challenge Update Week #7 of 20
An abandoned, crumbling home stood shrouded in overgrown grass and weeds. The old summer home that once held laughter and music now sat, vandalized, with broken windows, sunken floors and a hole in the roof where a tree branch had crushed it. But in 2009, an Illinois couple, Vicki and Darrell Gatwood began to renovate the home. As they cleaned up the hundreds of crumpled papers strewn around the floors, one name kept popping out: Florence Price. An internet search uncovered that Florence Price was an American composer who had passed away in 1953. Price was the first Black female composer to have a symphony premiered by a major American orchestra. (Price's Symphony No.1 was featured by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933.) The abandoned home had once been Price's summer home and what the Gatwood's discovered was a treasure trove of music-unpublished compositions by a remarkable composer.
The question, "What will you uncover in yourself?" has been our guiding theme this year at Brillante. As we dove into the unknown waters of composing these past couple of weeks, the discoveries have yielded a lot of treasures! (I will be featuring some of these student compositions in next week's blog.) Composing can feel awkwardly personal and uncomfortable. But those who travel those vulnerable passages will ultimately reap the greatest rewards.
Florence Price started composing finger technique exercises for her students when she was a piano teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas. Wanting to expand her musical life, Price applied to the Arkansas Music Teacher's Association, but was denied because of her race. In the meantime, racial violence was escalating in her community. After a public lynching of a Black man just a few blocks from her house, Price decided to move her family to Chicago. While in Chicago, she decided to boldly embrace the part of herself and her family that made many other people so uncomfortable-her heritage. She composed her first symphony, infusing it with both African-American and European traditions. The first movement glistens with Cathedral chimes and is followed by African drums that accompany a syncopated dance, a folk tradition that started in the country of Angola and moved with slaves to American plantations. Her unapologetic self-discovery was noticed and her music was celebrated. Her recovered symphonies went on to win awards in prestigious music circles and are included in the western music canon.
Florence Price's best music existed long before it was discovered. It's a reminder for us to keep digging-not only inwardly, but to excavate for the gold mines in other people and in unexpected places. The best surprises typically live just outside our comfort zones.
Practice Challenge Update Week #6 of 20
A stunning brunette wearing a black silk and lace dress sits cross-legged at a comparably beautiful piano. The perfectly executed lighting casts warmth on her alabaster skin and creates a magical twinkling effect from the diamonds that dangle from her ears. Her fingers rest delicately on the piano keys while her gentle, but intense gaze looks off camera, as if she is hearing music from beyond time and space.
As a middle schooler with only two years of piano lessons under my belt, an awkward wardrobe and very full bangs, I spent hours staring at this picture on a cassette tape cover my mom had randomly picked up at a church garage sale. It felt like a long shot, but still, I imagined myself as this woman-full of beauty, grace-and no doubt, undeniable talent! Beyond the beautifully curated cover, the true effect of this Victoria's Secret, Classics By Request, cassette tape was its content. The third piece on the playlist was Tchaikovsky's "'Love Theme'" from Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy Overture". Though I had never been in love, I could feel Tchaikovsky's obsession and heartbreak in the simple, yet sweeping melody and I. was. hooked. The music of that playlist absolutely ignited my imagination. Those pieces became the soundtrack of my winter journey as an unflappable mountain climber. It enveloped me in a ravishing gown while I sparkled and laughed gaily while swirling in circles at glittering ballroom parties. It was my full orchestra under the stars as I sang bold and inspiring songs from stages in massive open air stadiums.
Each February, our culture celebrates relational love, but it's also a great time to revitalize the passions and ideals that light our fires. Nelson Mandela said, "There is no passion to be found playing small-in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." Our truest loves propel us forward. They anchor us in tumultuous and frustrating times. They reward us.
A decade after receiving that cassette tape, I manifested my vision of the "woman at the piano". When I was asked to play at a very fancy evening party in the big city, I put on my most sparkly earrings, piled my hair on top of my head and wore (a slightly less risque) black silk dress. As I sat at the piano bench and gazed out the floor to ceiling windows out at the city's skyline, those hours in piano lessons and playing scales over and over seemed worth it. My love for music had even improved my hairdo-at least for the evening.
Practice Challenge Update Week #5 of 20
The Artic blast cocooning Minnesota this week couldn't have come at a better time. The Practice Challengers have played and sang their way to Week #5, which means a pit stop for fingers and voices and time spent snuggling up with some fabulous cinematic treasures.
In one of the *greatest Office episodes, "The Coup", office manager Michael Scott reveals that the cure for the Monday blues is "'Varsity Blues!'" He interrupts the work day to gather his staff in the conference room where they watch episodes of "Entourage" and "Varsity Blues". When this weekly exercise is discovered by his boss, Jan, Michael defends his decision:
Jan: How would a movie increase productivity, Michael? How on earth would it do that?
Michael: People work faster after...
Michael (nervously): No...they have to...to make up for the time they lost watching the movie.
Michael Scott's productivity efforts are laughable, but there is actually research to back it up. In the book The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World, author David Eagleman points out that we humans are relentless in our efforts to create familiarity and routine. However, as soon as we've established stability, we immediately try to break it! Patterns are both vitally important and predictably destructive. Neuroscience research shows that in order to grow our brain functions, we must consistently build new neurological "highways."
Movie Week is a rest stop on our 20-week practice challenge journey. We need to rest, relax and interact with music in a new and different way. Our movie list contains classics like "Hello, Dolly" as well as more recent shows like "Hamilton". While I wasn't overly inspired with the plot of Pixar's "Soul", I was still purchasing the sheet music for Jon Baptiste's fantastic version of "It's Alright" the moment I heard the first few notes playing during the credits.
"...while it may sound counterintuitive, if you want to improve your craft, here is my advice: Spend time elsewhere. Let your mind go somewhere else. Let your craft gestate quietly in the background. Trust that the inspiration can and will show up in unexpected ways." (Amy Tangerine, Craft a Life You Love)
*personal opinion and supported by the hubby
Practice Challenge Update Week #4 of 20
"This is listening as a martial art...contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do." ~Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference
Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert all celebrated birthdays in the last few months. This has resulted in me revisiting some of my favorite pieces and remembering why their music is so influential centuries later. While standing in the garage doesn't make me a car, regularly consuming great music will definitely create better musicians. For this reason, each week, I send out a studio-wide "Audio Treasure". These are current or classic songs and pieces that I hope will bring my students inspiration, deep thought and simple pure joy.
Week #4 of our practice challenge has brought out the challengers! There is a new palatable sense of energy and commitment and I am digging this journey with my students.
Here are the birthday boys and a few of my favorites:
Mozart | Symphony 40-Movement 1
From the very first notes, this angsty, unrelenting piece is one of the most captivating melodies of all time. Years later, both Beethoven and Schubert would use aspects from this movement in their fifth symphonies.
Beethoven | Fifth Symphony
Overcoming every obstacle, including loss of hearing (which can be a detriment to musicians, as it turns out), Beethoven continues to inspire with his world changing music. This Line Riders version makes for a fun visual as you listen to one of the most iconic pieces of all time.
Schubert | Serenade
Unlike the slow burn effect that many composers employ, this young Austrian composer has a knack for pulling his audience immediately into the depth of his music. Serenade/Standchen, a piece written for a desire for love, drops the listener directly into her feelings. The violin prowess of midwestern boy (with Minnesota ties!) Joshua Bell is the perfect musical partnership.
Practice Challenge Update Week #3 of 20
7:45 AM: Soggy underwear.
8:17 AM: Despite the sprint to the toilet...no success.
8:36 AM: A tiny tinkle in the potty-YES!!!! Chocolate!! Stickers!!
9:05 AM: Discover toddler hiding behind a chair making grunting sounds and smelling foul.
Repeat the process for the next 12 hours.
My inner dialogue has been absorbed with the daily training efforts of awakening a tiny human to the signals of her body and then acting upon them in a culturally appropriate way. Violet does not enjoy this process. She hates being interrupted from whatever destructive toddler fun she's having in the moment. She runs away or yells "No, thanks!" from across the living room when I suggest that it's time once again to try a boring activity that she doesn't understand.
While the two of us disagree on the process as a whole, we both relish her success. Even the smallest of condensation receives an ecstatic happy dance, celebratory hugs, a little handful of M&M's and the unique opportunity to place a colorful sticker on a piece of scratch paper. In those moments, past and future are irrelevant. Violet and I share a mutual understanding of our roles: I coach and she literally gets the job done. It's a beautiful partnership.
This ongoing enterprise of effort and success carries into my teaching day. We're in Week 3 of a 20-week practice challenge and it's getting real. Even if you possess an intrinsic love of music like most of my students do, setting aside 100 minutes a week to practice isn't for the faint of heart. We're in full training mode. They know that what they are doing is hard. I can appreciate that their failed attempts don't have quite the same consequences that I experience as a Toilet Trainer, but pushing oneself can still be a messy process. I can't give them chocolate or stickers, but my musicians are finding their own rewards:
"I could hardly play that measure last week, now it's so easy!"
"My voice is more comfortable singing the high notes today!"
"I figured out a brand new way to play Fur Elise!"
"It makes me nervous, but I'm pretty sure I could perform in that music event I've never done before".
As it turns out, when we're pushed, we're all pretty good at getting down to business.
Practice Challenge Update Week #2 of 20
When my parents went to visit my sister who was living in China, she took them climbing up to the Great Wall of China. A landmark that can been seen from outer space is very high. Not only is the altitude a challenge, but the rugged stairs leading to the top are uneven and craggy. My mom's quiet mantra "Step. Step. Step" gave her power as they slowly and painfully ascended the mountain in the blazing summer heat. When I visited a few years later, I borrowed her phrase as I climbed, knowing she and my dad had successfully taken this journey before me. When we finally reached the top, it felt earned. With my energy returned, I sprinted from tower to tower on the Great Wall of China. Having a picnic with my sister while we gazed in awe at the countryside is one of my fondest memories.
Our studio is at the very beginning of a great climb! We are on Week 2 of our 20 week Treasure Hunt Practice Challenge. I am happy to report that after Week 1, 100% of our studio is still climbing! Musicians must practice at least 100 minutes a week in order to receive a letter clue that unlocks a phrase for the treasure at the end of the Challenge. As a Challenge participant, I am feeling the pain along with my students! Sometimes, practicing is like gliding over water-smooth and easy, like when I'm playing or singing a piece I love. Some practice days are like the steps leading up to the Great Wall-uneven, rocky and challenging. And sometimes the landscape is just plain boring and I stare down that 20 minute timer willing it to speed up.
What is waiting for us at the end of these 20 weeks? Yes, there will be a sweet studio award! But richer than that, every time we say no to something mindless and pour our energy into our craft, we fee the part of ourselves that is hungry for change, for growth and power over our wills. We'll have grown to know that we are the kind of people who can do hard things and reap the benefits of that strength. We'll be mountain climbers.
"What will you unlock in yourself this year?"
This was the question I asked each of my students as we began the school year in September.
Normally each year, I create some kind of motivating practice challenge to engage the musicians with their long-term goals, but I didn't do one this year. Kids were starting hybrid classes in school, parents were completely
re-arranging their schedules-their lives-for each family member's needs. I decided to not add to the chaos by adding one more thing to keep track of. Color me naïve. At our parent/teacher conferences, parents told me that not only had their kids adapted to these new learning cycles, but they needed and wanted more! I should have known better. Not only are my student musicians bright and committed, but they are bold-hungry to be pushed and to grow. They inspire me everyday.
So off we go...continuing to discover and unlock treasures. For the next 20 weeks (now until the end of May), my musicians are challenged to practice for 20 minutes a day for 5 days. Every week that they are successful, they earn a letter which spells a phrase to win the prize. (Why yes...I do happen to love Survivor and The Amazing Race...why do you ask? ) :)
Would you like to join us? What skill or project are you trying to accomplish in the next 5 months? If you'd like some fun accountability, I will happily include you in our treasure hunt and send you a letter clue every week of your success! Let's go!