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The Sensible Flutist

The Sensible Flutist: January 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Become more present by acknowledging the uncomfortable

Avoiding pain, embarrassment, humiliation. We all do our best to avoid uncomfortable emotions. When we're angry or hurt, we try really hard to get back to a more peaceful state. What would happen if we chose to remain with the painful feelings and acknowledge their presence? What would happen if we realized that we have a say in the matter and that we have an array of possibilities to choose from, rather than the ones that emotion may dictate for us?

Life, with all its twists and turns, can not stay in homeostasis like our biological systems. Life instead seems to have more bad moments than good. Personally, 2012 wasn't a particularly good year but I learned a lot of lessons that I will strive not to forget when the times are good.

What does this have to do with music? The image of the suffering and starving artist is a widespread one in our western culture. We become artists not to make money but to create and move people towards change. Some of the most powerful music has been born from misery.

If you would like to become more present or mindful, accepting rather than fighting what is happening at any given time is a critical skill to develop. The hardest lesson for me in all this has been accepting that while my emotions are real, they do not define me. You can accept difficult situations for what they are, but you can simply notice the emotions they produce. They do not have to control you. Biologically, we feel emotions but research tells us that they take about 90 seconds to pass through the body (if we choose to let them go).

Acknowledge and accept. There are so many ways we can apply this to practice and performance of music.

Here's a way to start in the practice room: when you're having a bad day, it's incredibly difficult to not judge yourself. Any element that isn't going well becomes the focal point of your attention and you gradually pull yourself more and more away from the music itself.

When you notice frustration creeping in, stop and take a moment to notice that frustration and accept it. This doesn't mean that you have to stay with the frustration but instead, you can make a choice about what it is you want to do next. If you choose to stay frustrated, you will choose to remain focused on the element that isn't flowing (such as your tone). Another choice you can make is to step away from the instrument and go do something else for a little while.

Finally, a third choice could be to focus on the wider picture and find something positive in your playing. I can guarantee that you're not going to feel comfortable or even happy about having to play in a frustrated state, but if you choose to not let the frustration control your choices, the negative judgmental voices will dissipate. You may even be able to end the practice session in a productive groove.

Life is all about how we choose to respond to curveballs. Practicing is all about how we choose to respond to our expectations. If we let our emotions control us, choices get made for us. Conscious, mindful decision making can keep us in the game.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Unpacking Musical Memories to Ring in 2013

I rang in 2013 in a new house surrounded by boxes. I consider this to be one of the ultimate ways to ring in the new year: a fresh start in a new location and in an idealist way, it actually had the potential to be pretty empowering. In reality, the first week of 2013 put me in a funk because instead of thinking about projects (and starting) that I would like to accomplish this year, I had to acknowledge that the week was all about unpacking and settling in.

There's still unpacking left to do, but this is the week to begin piecing together what will make 2013  a successful year. While I unpack, I'm reminded of myself and nothing fired up the spark more than unpacking and organizing my music library.

As I sorted through all the music, I thought about why I owned the piece, if I've learned it (or asking why I haven't learned it yet) and finally thinking about the times I've performed each piece.

I put away my copy of the Reinecke Sonata and I smile at the memory of performing it with Erica Sipes in 2012. For the first time in a long time (and perhaps ever), I collaborated with a pianist who truly and happily supports the musicians she plays with.

On stage, I felt that I could do anything and Erica would respond to me. I felt safe and cocooned and the Reinecke is the perfect memory of 2012 and future performances with Erica.

I was first exposed to the Telemann Fantasias in high school when I learned the second one. I returned to them in college and I have regularly returned to them ever since. I love them for their complexity and the way Telemann transformed the flute into a harmonic instrument with harmonic and melodic material written on a single line.

Perhaps the most amusing memory is performing No. 2 during a church service back home in SW Virginia, and people not quite knowing what to make of it since it wasn't an overtly sacred choice. I think it was the closest I've ever come to hearing crickets chirp after I finished playing.

Finally, the copy of Robert Beaser's Mountain Songs for flute and guitar. I programed several of the movements on my senior recital to honor the memory of my grandfathers who both died in 2006. I appreciate the guitarist that came to my aid to learn the difficult part in a short amount of time and allowed me to keep the piece on my program.

Mountain Songs blends Appalachian folk songs and sets them within the classical tradition, blending my two sound worlds together that meshes my identity with that of my grandfathers'.

Just looking at the music brings forth these memories, and I can keep making more memories with the music in my library. Every move is attached to a specific memory and unpacking my music library will stick with me for this move.

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