Ok, I admit it - I've succumbed to the habit of taking pictures and videos with my phone, but not just for grocery lists or cute hairstyles to try, but of images and memories that inspire me. I save these to review on rainy days when I just need a little mental, emotional, or spiritual dusting off. This recent clip (above) is from a visit to the New York Public Library, and it makes me smile now almost as much as when I first saw it!
Placing this quote by the Einstein bobbleheads was a genius (!) move. Timeless, yet timely. Still, here's the extended quote for further appreciation:
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. . . Never lose a holy curiosity.
For the inner-Einstein in all of us, this simple quote from the NYPL gets to the heart of what the journey is all about - it's not the success or the discovery or the mastery, it's the process and the fortitude and the perseverance. Dedicate some time to be curious, to wonder, to question.
Over time, it is challenging to remain hopeful, positive, energized, committed, on fire . . . life, like art, is not created in a vacuum. We must respond to and reflect on the world around us, while still preserving a vital interior life. We strive to nurture the two - our interior and exterior environments - to achieve a sustaining symbiotic relationship that helps not only ourselves but also those around us. Still, sometimes this balancing act is overwhelmingly exhausting.
Many people are struggling to find meaning and are consumed by worry, doubt, and disappointment. These are times when art matters most. When we are in our darkest hours, the WHY we must create can drive us to persevere. Expressing these struggles, worries, and emotions pushes us further as individuals and humankind to perhaps create even greater art.
This is a call to action to everyone, to the artists existing in each of us, to remember that the human expression of our dynamic range of emotions - including hope - is good and necessary. And we can create it again, each day, with just one small action.
No matter what it may be or where you are on life's journey, the time is now. Do not wait to live, to connect, to create . . . to be your artist. You CAN make a difference. And that is TRUE art.
One of my favorite books as an undergraduate was Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (see it at https://www.amazon.com/Letters-Young-Rainer-Maria-Rilke/dp/0393310396). Check it out if you don’t already know this great book, a collection of letters in response to a poet seeking advice on work-life balance, self-doubt, and the struggle to find creative inspiration. In post-resolution-making-mode, I’m drafting one letter here to everyone. Thanks for indulging me!
Dear “High School Flutist” in All of Us,
So, you’re taking a college audition? How exciting - another opportunity to connect with others through music! We all face challenges each and every day – by living life, and not running from the risks of rejection or anything that stretches us, we grow. Being safe and comfortable, we stagnate. We all know this – but easier said than done, right? Trusting in one’s hard work and efforts takes practice, and performing under pressure requires the same. Spend time developing these skills in addition to your music fundamentals.
Having been a student since I was a toddler, like you and like most people, I am aware of the power of trust between student and teacher. Our families are typically our first teachers, helping us master simple steps forward in all aspects of life. Later on in classes and in lessons, this trust is a gift given to the student from the teacher, as well as to the teacher from the student. Appreciate opportunities to earn that cycle, and consider this when meeting with your prospective teachers.
Having been a teacher since I was in high school, I still remain a student. I recognize in music there is no perfect; I will never earn a “100%” on a performance or an audition. It’s the process of learning and trying and connecting, with ourselves and our listeners, that really teach us so much. Everyone has individual strengths and natural abilities. Some of life’s lessons, however, are more difficult to grasp – and are often the most transformative. If we turn around how we approach a test or playing challenge, we can find freedom. The panel’s priority is not looking for ways to eliminate you, but rather is seeking a beautifully turned phrase that inspires and transcends.
Having been a flutist for – oh, much longer than I care to admit – I’ve made my share of mistakes, literally and figuratively, but I have grown from these. Reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and make some adjustments; then look ahead, armed with this knowledge. Experience is often underappreciated, and rarely understood. We learn best by doing, not by being told or reading or watching (although these are helpful). Taking risks builds character…we find out what we’re made of when we’re outside our safe zone.
So with these ideas, I encourage you to trust in your hard work. Your audition is an opportunity to connect with others and to reflect a side of you which only music can express. You’ll be gaining experience, meeting people through music, and facing challenges head on. Way to go! You’re listening to your heart and facing challenges head on. Focus on your message rather than worrying about being liked, being good enough, or getting accepted.
Want an extra confidence boost?
Recognizing we are all works in progress, I am acutely aware of how I learn through teaching, doing, being. I don't believe we're ever "done," at a point of having reached the ultimate stage where there's nothing that could be different or better or improved. With that in mind, how do we record ourselves without losing our minds? Will it ever be good enough to actually record?!
Recording is inherently a vehicle for evaluating, right? It provides a platform to "get things just right" since it will be preserved for posterity . . . or at least until someone might find it and take a listen (or look). When we perform, we're in the moment, we send it out there, and it's gone forever (unless someone records it!). How do we make these two presentations more related?
Making recordings can be a daunting task - there's the nervousness akin to performing while faced with the glow of the red light . . . this can be even more challenging than an actual performance because there's no human interaction. Sometimes, though, knowing we can just do another take will be the confidence-boost to just go for it! And then there's the joy in knowing we have something usable down already, anyway - so let's just see what we really *could* do!
To me, knowing a recording is a snapshot of where we, our ideas, our interpretation, our development/progress - all are right here, right now - promotes growth. It helps me understand this is a learning opportunity. The trick is to do it often enough so we get used to the process and all the "stuff" it might dig up. If we're hoping our "winning takes" will magically happen when pressing record we are setting ourselves for a really unpleasant, unproductive experience.
So we have different uses for recordings (personal, audition, documenting our progress, launching a project, connecting with others, etc.) but no matter what, we will learn from this experience! Here are a few ideas from some mistakes I have made and also experienced - to help us all keep growing. I'm targeting this list for audition submissions, by the way:
Other resources to help!
And I hope you'll check out the New Year's Promotion to get Your Audition Advantage! - sign up by 1/15/17!
So if you're following the YOUR AUDITION ADVANTAGE metamorphosis and offerings, here's the latest video promoting the new special in celebration of the New Year and all the hopes, dreams, and goals we hold near and dear to our hearts!
To complete the interest form for this special offer, see the main YAA page which also offers a few testimonials. Have some questions about this program? Check out this page but let me know if you have others!
Happy December 1, everyone! Although I admittedly have cringed a bit over Facebook pages, I finally created one to channel my flute activities through a direct social media outlet. I hope you'll check out and like my page! - @FrancescaArnoneFlutist AND to be consistent - Instagram is the same!
So I hope you consider completing the interest form to help me test out this new system to help people present themselves at their best at all kinds of auditions - from college entrance to job applications to summer festivals to juries to all-region to any kind of playing test! The best thing about this (besides how much fun I'm having!) is that it feels great lending a completely unbiased, totally objective ears that have no agenda - and that may be hard to understand from a student's perspective, but simply put: I'm only here to offer one more check point. Hopefully this process will also serve as a great preparation exercise for you, so that you can see where you stand with all of your materials in one place. Of course, this process entirely confidential between the musician sending me materials and me.
What do you think? Interested in the Beta Test version? - offer EXPIRED on December 1, 11:59 PM :(
New Year's Promotion now available - sign up by 1/15/17
UPDATE!!!!! Although the CYBERMONDAY+ offer expired, sign up here to learn of the New Year's special offer now. I'll let you know all the details for two different packages I'm preparing to offer!
Have an upcoming audition, pre-screening application, recital hearing, competition, or other important playing opportunity? Here’s a system with flutist Francesca Arnone to secure an independent, professional, and experienced evaluation of where you stand before the big day - and all completely confidential!
Introducing the Your Audition Advantage system - Beta Version (please help me test this out!)
You'll submit recordings and videos to me online, and I will provide prompt feedback (written summary and a video, with a brief online session if desired). All of our interactions and materials will be completely confidential.
UPDATE on 12/13/16: Check out the New Year's Special - good until 1/15/17!!!!
Dr. Francesca Arnone has been featured as a flute and piccolo soloist, chamber musician, orchestral musician, and educator in the US and abroad. For the past 25 years, she has held Principal Flute, Second Flute, and Piccolo positions in the US and Mexico, and this season is performing with the Naples Philharmonic, Sarasota Orchestra, Palm Beach Opera, Opera Tampa, and the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, among others. She has taught at Boise State, West Virginia, and Baylor universities as well as many summer festivals and camps. In addition to her experience reviewing undergraduate through doctoral admission applications and auditions, she has regional, national, and international competition adjudication experience in addition to years of serving on professional orchestral audition and teaching position committees. She’s been a concerto soloist on flute, alto flute, and piccolo, on repertoire ranging from Bach to Chen Yi. Her recordings on MSR and PARMA have met with critical acclaim. See www.francescaarnone.com
How do we keep our favorite exercises - our go-to, tried-and-true, most comfortable and comfort-offering routines - alive, useful, invigorating, sustaining (look, Ma - no thesaurus - yet!)? In other words, fresh and not dying on the vine. This question can apply to so many things...we like our creature comforts, our "things" and habits that help us feel more secure and safer, especially when we face the day's uncertainties. For musicians, this is an especially interesting question to pose, as we like our confidence-inducing activities to remain skill-building, yet sometimes we wander into the desert of automatic pilot/self-driving cars/phoning things in/just basically not really being present. . .
While a college undergrad, I remember walking up to the practice room building's top floor (since this is where my favorite rooms were located) for each day's first practice session, wondering what exactly kind of tone day it was going to be. Tone is everything to a flute player (and to all musicians, right?!) - it's the ears to the soul, the personal calling card of an individual. It's a big deal. So, sometimes my heart would pound as I unzipped my bag, unlatched the case to my flute...was it going to be a good tone day? A not so great one? A fabulous one? And what to do about it? Here's an average mental exchange from back then: "Yesterday was a pretty good tone day - I'd better start with EXACTLY the same long-tone exercise on EXACTLY the same pitch as I did yesterday."
Naturally, sometimes that approach would work, and of course, sometimes that would not. Now that I refuse to play Eight Ball with my sound or my playing (!) I celebrate the wisdom of balancing exercises and knowing what I need to do to keep things fresh: be creative, participate, experiment, and play. So I'm attacking the much-revered exercise, the long tone.
What exactly is this important component of a wind player's practicing? Long tones are generally exactly what their name implies: sustained pitches, under which we play a smooth crescendo and decrescendo, to help us focus on the beginning, development, and release of the tone. Here's a good explanation by a horn expert, Bruce Hembd, including the key of developing the right mindset to practice these particular exercises effectively, as well as the importance of changing things up (that's our fresh-picked ingredient!).
For examples from flutists, here's an overview from Jeff Khaner, exercises from Jennifer Cluff, and an explanation from David Cramer on Moyse's De La Sonority. Overall, I adopt these "long tone generalizations" in my own playing:
Here are some great resources for long tones, including different concepts and exercises, videos, and other creative projects, including Flute Pro Shop's project with Danny Dorff. Some other ideas to consider:
So perhaps your goal is to get back into playing shape. We’ve all been there – perhaps you enjoyed your summer break just a little too much away from your instrument (Hello! Beach calling!), or you suddenly have an adjustment in your work load or schedule that’s cramping your practicing style, or you experienced a period of “forced rest” due to overuse, illness, or instrument woes, or you needed to help a family or friend for a while…there are as many real reasons as there are circumstances in life, including joyful ones! But the issue remains – you just know you’re not getting around the instrument so that it feels like “home” when you play. What to do?
First off – a DISCLAIMER. Like all of my blogs, these are my ideas, and things that help me. I write these blogs in the hopes they may help someone else, too, or inspire a discussion and a sharing of ideas in the practice room hallway or over coffee with a friend. The important thing is to know you’re not alone! That being established:
PAUSE for commercial: why am I writing about emotional and mental connections? You’re interested in getting back into shape so you can sprint in the upper register with the best of ‘em! Well, I believe the above are crucial steps to opening up your heart, mind, and (then) body in order to release unnecessary tension. When we are not “in shape” this is especially important. So be strong and take one step at a time.
Try a mixture of the above ideas – 5 minutes of this, 5 minutes of something else, and then read through an etude, and take a break. Then for your next session later in the day, start again with some music-based tone exercise and build your way up to faster finger activity. Build on this tomorrow, and then again, step by step, you’ll be back to where you were in no time.
It’s very important to come up with a plan – small steps of just 30 minute sessions at different times of the day can then progressively build up to longer sessions of 45 minutes after a few days. Even if you feel great, take breaks in between your practice sessions spread out over each day. You may feel tightness and fatigue in your muscles after your “playcation,” so take care to stay connected to your body to monitor how you feel, what you see, and also what you hear.
Finally, and to look at this from another perspective, try welcoming your break. Many professional and serious flutists actively take planned breaks over the year, just as professional and serious athletes pursue “detraining.” The mind and body accrue tremendous fatigue – or worse – if the state of training is constant. Be open to the possibility your time off will help you emerge stronger and refreshed in the long run!
Fundamentals - what exactly are we talking about? And why?
Post-olympics, there's a lot of talk about having strong fundamentals as the basis of anything we do, whether in sports, carpentry, or music. Fundamentals are defined with these catch phrases: underlying, basic, being an essential part of a foundation or basis, and being primary source. Like diagramming sentences (does anyone do this anymore?), these "basics" seem less glamorous, less "fun," yet essential parts of experiencing the joy of turning a fancy or inspiring phrase...so it's more than tempting to skip over them. Who has that kind of time, anyway?
Well, keep in mind this fantastic quote from Noa Kageyama's terrific blog on scale practicing:
“What people don’t realize is that professionals are sensational because of the fundamentals.” ~12-time MLB All-Star, 1995 MVP, and 1990 World Series Champion shortstop Barry Larkin.
There must be some value in investigating fundamentals, right?
Consider any new skill we wish to acquire - let's try learning a new language. Often the best course of action is to start with essential skills that help us execute the eventual activity. We spend hours studying vocabulary, listening to native speakers to get the cadence and pronunciation in our ears, watch movies with subtitles, conjugate verbs...these are all like lifting weights to become stronger on the field. The goal is not to be a fantastic verb conjugator and weight lifter, but to be able to function in the moment with confidence and ease.
Convinced yet? Give it a try, and let's start with scales, since Florida requires all all-state auditionees to play ALL major scales in the circle of 4ths (go, Florida!). Why are scales fundamental? Scales allow us to become comfortable in a particular key, to hear and feel the pull toward home base, to get ready to play pieces or phrases in that key. The more we are "at home" in that key, the easier (more comfort, less stress and tension in our bodies, more musicality and freedom we can express) any phrase or piece will be. Scales are basically just formulas - plug in the correct notes and intervals (distances between pitches) according to the formula, and you're all set. Isn't that great? A simple yet powerful tool!
Already a scale convert? Try a few of these ideas to freshen up your scale encounter:
So give some of these a try and start your very own scale notebook - have some ideas jotted down and ready to attack for the next day, or when you're feeling slightly less inspired. Take one step at a time - work to keep the load (mental and physical) simple so that you lessen any resistance of this new habit. As you gain fluency, start changing one thing at a time - perhaps try one of the new ideas from the above bullet-point list one day, and return to "go to" ease of playing the next day. The overall value is accrued over time. Each day is an opportunity to put money in that scale bank - you'll gain rich rewards! Try this for two weeks, even a month - and notice the difference fundamentals can make. As my husband just pointed out to me, practicing scales is a lot like playing pool - the two purposes of any pool shot is 1. to sink a ball (get it in the pocket) AND 2. to set up the next shot. So - let's be ready for that next shot.
Some scale blogs to check out:
Why I'd spend a lot more time practicing scales if I could do it all over again
Why do I need to practice scales?
How to practice scales - 10 reasons why they are important
Practicing scales effectively