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Measuring Success

I’ve been reading a lot of hype online about Idina Menzel’s “poor” (not my words) live, outdoor performance in NYC on New Year’s Eve. I watched it. There were maybe two times that I could hear some imperfections in an otherwise solid, enthusiastic, and meaningful performance. Did I mention that it was live and outside in NYC?! She was singing a range-testing, vocal-chord busting song in probably 20-degree (F) weather (I’m guessing at the temp — I didn’t see the forecast, but it was nighttime in NYC and cold). That temp alone is hard to even talk in, let alone belt out such a huge piece of music, and she did it admirably! She later mentioned on social media that she doesn’t get every single note right in every single number she ever sings, but that’s not how she measures success. I love her honesty. I can’t, obviously, speak for her, but I measure success in part by my own satisfaction and by the ability to communicate and create “magic” in the eyes (ears) of my listeners. When someone comes up to me after a recital excited by the performance or some aspect of the performance that moved them, touched them, or “wow-ed” them, then I’ve done my job. I gave them a musical experience – even a “mini-vacation,” if you will. I’ve succeeded. Did I get every note correct? Unlikely. But who cares? Does that make me any less a musician? Does that make me any less a person? I’m human. Idina is human. We are all human. We are all perfectly imperfect. Is any professional musician ever 110% happy with a performance? We are all perfectionists trying to achieve something that’s not even possible: perfection. But, take the perfectly imperfect human element out of music, well, then, it’s not real. It’s simply not real. If you look at the faces of the people in the crowd as she was singing, it’s obvious they were moved. It’s obvious they were touched by her performance in some way. She did her job. She succeeded as a musician. Let’s drop the overly critical, imperfection microscope and just relax and let music move you. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and touched by music.

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Relying on Other Disciplines

So, I have this recital coming up, quickly, and I’ve found that I’ve become more tense everywhere, which obviously adversely affects my flute playing and, well, everything. Believe me, I found that it really could permeate every aspect of my day. I have been focusing intently on staying relaxed through my playing, even taking tiny breaks fairly often to soften my muscles and regroup mentally. That process is good, but it’s really only part of the solution, I’ve discovered. I noticed that even though my face consistently stayed relaxed and ready to play, my arms and especially my fingers ached and hurt after only a few hours of practice. By my third or fourth day in a row of taking a lot of ibuprofen (nuprophen in the UK, if I remember correctly) I thought to myself that something is definitely wrong here.

I messaged my friend Lynne ( ) who is a skilled Andover Educator ( ) and talented flutist. She recommended some positions for me that allowed me to relax my spine, which, in turn, relaxed my entire body and mind. I’ve not had to take any medication today for pain, and practicing was fun and felt easy. Since my conversation with her a few days ago, I’ve also added yoga back into my routine and have started running on a more regular basis — not just on Saturdays after the farmers market with the promise of blueberry and dark chocolate pancakes at the end!

In order to be a more well-rounded musician, or parent, or anything, we need to rely on other disciplines to help keep us focused, balanced, and grounded. Even lying flat on the floor with our knees up for 5-10 minutes a few times a day helps a great deal and is a fabulous place to start. I certainly know how busy we can get trying to juggle work, parenting, etc., but we can only do our best when our bodies and minds are at their best. I use several means to make me the best flutist and parent I can be: I run to keep up my stamina and improve my lung function for playing; I now lie flat on the floor a few times a day to allow my spine to lengthen and spinal fluid to reposition; I’ve added yoga back in for concentration and body control; I pray a lot; and I use “mental practice” (imagining myself playing a particularly hard passage) to help with my flute playing. I know without all of these different disciplines working together I would consistently be run-down, frantic, and feeling out of control. I’m certainly not saying that every day is perfect — it’s not! — but I can have more good days and more healthy days when I take the time to do the above for my body, mind, and, in turn, for my flute playing and FAMILY.

A huge thank you to Lynne for reminding me of the importance of the above! ( )

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I’ve Been Spoiled! Back to the Basics.

So, my second child started school, full-time, a few weeks ago. I now have two children in school, and it’s just my happy toddler and me at home for 6 [mostly] quiet hours. Heaven! Don’t get me wrong; I love my children so very much, but when the older two get bored they get loud and cranky and start arguments just to start arguments. That doesn’t make for good and focused practicing. I started to get frustrated today, but then I stepped back, and thought: Well, that’s what my blog is supposed to be about, right? How do I balance having 3 children at home and a performing career. What have I been telling my readers who pop on my site? Wow, have I been spoiled these past few weeks — so much so that I forgot how I used to manage it 7 days a week for the 13 or so hours per day they are awake.

I found that separation worked incredibly well today. My toddler doesn’t understand sharing quite yet. He’s only two years old, and the reasoning part of the brain hasn’t been fully developed yet (at least, that’s what I remember reading). We’re working on it, but it’s obviously going to take a bit of time. My four year old, who fully understands sharing but doesn’t like it, has a fairly hot temper and will explode at smallest look my toddler gives him and his toys. They broke into a lot of arguing and yelling over toys almost first thing this morning (I think I had exactly one note out of my flute). I explained to my four year old why his hoarding of the toy cars was wrong, and when he wouldn’t hand just one over to the toddler after my second or third request, he got a time-out then sent downstairs. That worked really well for about an hour. I have a baby gate at the top of the stairs, so they were definitely separated. I had to repeat the process after lunch when the toddler kept wrecking my four year old’s block building. Again, it worked incredibly well.

Another trick that worked well today, when they got tired of being in one part of the house or the other, was an educational video (again, PBS Kids Video ). They forgot all about being upset over whatever and focused on a couple of spelling/reading shows. The video was the one thing today that the 2 boys could handle together, but I’ll take it.

I think the lesson for me (and maybe for other parents) here is to try completely separating the children if they can’t manage to get along together — I mean, be honest, we all need a little break sometimes — and to try other diversions once the separation fails. I had to learn today to be patient, do my job as a parent, and find a solution (or at least a temporary fix) to problems that came up so I could do my job as a flutist. I’ve really been on my own, completely, this week, and I think that’s what has made this particular weekend so challenging for me, but taking a step back to analyze the actual problem so I could make some attempt at fixing it helped us all this time.

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Weekend Wickedness

I love the weekend…mostly. The “me” time that happens on Saturday mornings is so necessary and relaxing, the endless pancakes coming off the griddle greeted by smiling faces, and that freedom from schedules and the daily grind all make the weekend so wonderful! Unfortunately, sometimes, the weekend can almost be more stressful for a performing musician gearing up for a recital (like I am doing now) or a week of rehearsals and concerts (fast approaching). Yes, it’s necessary for everyone to step back and take a break from life’s work or even one’s passion, but reality seems to dictate what actually needs to get done: notes learned, passages memorized, stamina strengthened. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it happens with daily, routine work — hard work. Even as I write this, that nagging voice in the back of my head is saying, “yes, but you need to allow your muscles time to rebuild and repair after the work.” Suddenly, I relax and acknowledge that I’m not a machine. As soon as the relaxation sets in, my other nagging voice pipes up, “you had better get on that flute or you are going to forget how to play that darn thing!” I feel a headache setting in.

Yes, I do love the weekend, but I find myself during my busy time craving the productive practice time that I get during the week. (I’m so weird! Who wishes for the weekend to end?!?!) Don’t get me wrong; I do take advantage of the weekend to spend a little extra time with my children and family. I need it. We all need it! But, I hate those voices chiming in about what I “should” be doing. This reminds me of a saying from one of my friends: don’t “should” on yourself. So perhaps the lesson here is to be happy doing whatever you are doing in that particular moment. Be in the moment. Yes, I have to practice — that is the reality — but enjoying being in the moment free of nagging voices is so much more healthy and productive than getting through that phrase just one more time.