Friday, October 30, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2: D16&17, Part II: What Is Practice?

BrassDoc wants to know: What IS practice, anyway?

I've explored that idea a few times in this blog, and I'm still working on it. 116 days ago, I had a Buddhist approach: Practice means simply living the art. Being the practice, simply by being. I like those Buddhists.

But, I'm a lapsed Protestant, child of a Catholic-turned-Protestant mother. We Proddies like our earnest, hard work. But we Catholics like our suffering.

Apologies to the Buddhists, but I must to the Western spiritual world for metaphors this evening:

On stage, you get to be Protestant. If you make a mistake, you have to let it go, forgive yourself immediately, and keep playing.

In the practice room, you must be Catholic. You make a mistake, and you must make yourself bleed until it is fixed.

Sometimes I've lied to myself that a rehearsal or a gig sufficed as practice, but you really didn't. Musical practice is this: Focused, intentional playing in a context in which you can correct your mistakes. It doesn't matter if you're working on technique, rhythm, timing, a new tune, long tones, whatever. What matters most is that you are in an environment in which you can completely focus on your own sound (not your sound as it fits within an ensemble--that's rehearsal, not practice) AND fix whatever is not working. If you're too lazy or not focused enough to fix your errors in the practice room, then you're not really practicing. You're just playing.

Now, just to give the Buddhists a look-in here:

You can legitimize "practice" when you're walking down the street, washing the dishes, etc., if all the while, you are reciting your arpeggios to yourself (silently, PLEASE) or visualizing whirled B's. That's practice, because you're in your mind and that's like being in a private, albeit slightly treacherous, practice room. If you miss a note in your visualizations, then you can fix that note, and work it again. Believe me, this works. If you can visualize the correct way to play something, you will be able to play it when you have your instrument in hand.

As I've recently experienced, you can even use the ol' arpeggio recitation as an instant sedative to help you get to sleep, and maybe that stuff will work its way into your subconscious mind while you're sleeping, and come out in your playing. Or, you may find that you begin to have recurring nightmares of being attacked by giant, coffee-ring-covered double basses in leiderhösen.

Not my fault. You come here at your own bidding.

100 Days of Practice, Round 2: Day 16, 17... Clouds and Silver Linings

Give me a cloud if you want, but I'm big into silver linings. There have been a lot of clouds around the Lindsay household lately, and they've been obscuring our view of some really nice things. For example, friends like the Porters, who came for dinner last night with three important food groups, the Three Bs: Bread, Beer, and Brownies. All homemade, except the beer, but they make that too; it's just that it's the wrong time of year.

And while I'm on the subject, there are a number of other B Good Things on the list:

2) Baritone horns. Who knew that King Porter is a former baritone player? And who expected the Lindsays to just happen to be able to produce one, from the basement?

3) Brett (AKA King Porter), who plays it. Or used to.

4) Betty, AKA Queen Porter, AKA Satoko. Betty, as in Betty Crocker--a nickname she earned in college for her baking skills. She proved her mettle last night (again) with the homemade oatmeal bread and the brownies with homemade... another B! ... butterscotch frosting.

5) The Boys. The Porters have three cool boys, and we love having them here. And we don't even mind footing the bill for repairs.

6) Bartering. Heck, we even barter with these folks for babysitting.

7) Basements, where I went to practice after the Porters left and MiniMe was tucked cozily into bed. I love our basement practice room, which Steve built. It looks like an Irish bar. We even have those authentic upside-down Irish tap thingies for liquor bottles. And, it's soundproofed! Late night practicing! Love it.

8) Books. Last night I worked with Joe Viola's Chord Studies for Flute, and Chord Studies for Saxophone. Both published by Berklee Press.

9) Berkleemusic and Berklee Press. They have been keeping me on their rolls doing freelance editing for their online courses and books for the last four or five years, and not only do I absolutely love editing the courses, I love learning the material, and I love the folks who send me the work. And now that Steve's laid off, I love you all even more.

10) Bridgewater State College. My job! Thank you to my amazing colleagues at Bridgewater, and most definitely the best boss in the world, Music Department Chair Salil Sachdev, who denies his bosshood but is a leader and a role model, whether he wants to be or not.

11) Fabulous bosses. Not just Salil, actually, but also Debbie Cavalier, Dean of Continuing Education at Berklee College of Music and Chief Academic Officer at Incredible people to work for and with. Thank you both!

12) Brown-nosing? No, I'm really not. I really do love these people.

13) Blue Blinds, the coffee shop that brewed the java that I am currently drinking. Thank you for the caffeine that has lifted my spirits and helped the silver lining come through. Caffeine, I love you.

I was going to title this blog posting "When a Cloud Is Just a Cloud" but now that I've spent the last half hour thinking about the seemingly nonexistent silver lining, I'm going to rename it. Found a lining or two... or ten... ! The hell with it. We'll be fine.

Alright. Back to the practice room.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round s 14, 15: Qualifying Events

Oy... Tuesday's practice had to be the warmup for the concert, then the concert. Wednesday's practice had to be what I played during three hours of private teaching. Why? Because the Lindsay family has some serious health insurance issues to deal with.

Anyone who opposes a public option for health insurance should experience a layoff, losing health insurance, and then the shopping process. Folks, my hair used to be straight. Now, I've got curls.

Two very difficult days. I have a new health insurance term, "qualifying event," to now apply to practice. I missed two days of real practice, due to a "qualifying event."

I'll get to you when the Lindsay family is fully insured.


Monday, October 26, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2, Day 13: Soprano

Today was soprano day. After months of neglect, with all the attention going to baby sister Flutesse, Big Sister Soprano gets a day out alone with Soul Mama. Scales and arpeggios in 12 keys, a few melodies, and some chord changes. And Mama sleeps well tonight.

Tomorrow night: Caravan world music trio at Bridgewater State College, 8 pm, featuring Salil Sachdev on percussion, Tom Rohde on guitar, and meself on flute, whistle and sax... and guest vocalist Big Daddy Lindsay. Horace Mann Auditorium, Boyden Hall.

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2, Day 12: Insomnia

Dear Sherpa,

You were right that it takes time to make a habit fully ingrained. You said 90 days. For me, it appears to have taken 112 days. Hooray. It happened.

Soul Mama

P.S: Tonight, after a long day with not enough sleep and a house full of kids, I went to bed unexpectedly early--which means, I put the little one to sleep and fell asleep myself. We started the process at 7:00, with hopes that an early bedtime would leave me some practice time. She had other plans. We read, we told stories, she cried, I pulled a pillow over my head. Finally, at 9:00 pm, I told her for the 40th time that it is time to stop talking and now we're going to sleep. Then I fell asleep. She did too.

I slept fitfully til 12:30 am, waking frequently, listening to the windy deluge outside and, each time, putting myself back to sleep by reciting scale patterns to myself in the key of C# minor. (I recognize what this says about my sanity.) Turns out, though, that mental scale study is a sedative, though not a permanent one. I did fall asleep, but then woke up again. Ten times. Finally, I gave up, went downstairs, and watched U2 and the Just Kidding lady on Saturday Night Live. I gave up on the TV after a skit that wasn't funny at all, and returned to bed again. No sleep this time. I hadn't even picked up my instrument all day, and that may be the first time since July that that's happened.

It began to look like I'd never sleep til I practiced a bit. At 1:30ish, I made my way to the music dungeon and worked for an hour on Irish flute, 12-keys of scale patterns on silver flute, a few toots on the clarinet, and now I'm ready for bed.

Man, now I feel really good, and maybe a little tired. Even though it's technically Sunday and it's day 13... I am calling this Day 12, and despite what the dateline tells you, it's Saturday until the sun comes up on South Street.

I suppose that today I learned that the best sedative is self-satisfaction. Doing what you're supposed to do, and doing it in good conscience.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2, Day 9: Part II

Real-life scenes from the Lindsay practice complex, we bring you: "The Most Expensive Drink Coaster in the World"...

100 Days of Practice, Round 2, Day 9: Underline Day 7, please.

Another practice tip: Follow your own advice.

Structure, ah structure. As I recently wrote, I've discovered that the only time for me to practice is really 5 AM.

Well, I thought yesterday that I'd skip waking up early, because I'd have plenty of time to practice in the afternoon. Wrong. I had a half hour. Halfway through that half hour, a close friend walked into my practice room to tell me all about his new instrument and how excited he was, and how two nights in a row, he'd practiced it for about six hours. Yes, he is single. No, he does not have kids. Oh, I do love this close friend, and someday I will love hearing him play his new instrument... but I really wanted to practice.

Today, I started practicing my flute, in a rare block of afternoon free time, when my cell phone rang. I answered it. It was a different close friend, calling from Paris to say that he is applying to a jazz studies program in New York and would I write a recommendation letter? Yes of course. I would do anything for him, the smartest AND most musically talented person I know (well... except you, of course). BUT... he called during my practice session. Sigh.

Let's revisit those tips I wrote...

-Don't answer your phone when you're practicing.
-Practice where you know you won't be disturbed.
-Always practice at the same time of day, whenever possible.

I managed about a half hour yesterday. Today, I got about five minutes, and now I have to run out on some unavoidable errands, just hoping that my family will understand later on, after dinner, when I ask for an hour to go practice.

This ain't easy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2: Day 7: On the Importance of Structure

Last thing before bed was practice, and first thing this morning was practice. I can get used to this.

Two additional thoughts on making practice more effective:

1) Choose concrete, measurable goals. "I'm going to practice every day for the next 100" is nice, but it's not the same as, "By the end of this 100 days, I'm going to learn the following three pieces..." or "Here's a list of tunes I want to learn. I'm going to learn one a week, for the next ten weeks" etc etc.

What happened to me at the end of the last 100 days is that I finished up the campaign with no idea if I had progressed or not. I shoulda coulda woulda made a list of goals, if I'd thought of it. It seemed like 100 days was a goal enough; it wasn't.

2) Keep a journal. It helps you track what you did. It helps you structure your time. Look back through it from time to time to remind yourself of what you've been working on , and what you've forgotten to work on. There's not much to it: Get a calendar/diary journal book. Borders sells them cheaply. At the beginning of your session, jot down what you plan to do. At the end of your session, comment on how well you did it. Look at the weak points, and write them down in your entry for tomorrow. Tomorrow, you won't forget to work on those things.

I didn't do this very consistently in my first 100 days. And for the last seven days of this session, I've been trying to find my journal. (See "Keeping your work space clean"... a few days ago. Another weak point in my regime....) Finally located it today, after my session. It was in our bedroom (???) under a pile of clothes that needs to be hung up in the closet. (See previous sentences. )

Today, I tell myself: Clean your house. It helps.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2, Day 6: The Silver Lining

A great weekend of music and two nice long and lovely practice sessions. Concert with Caravan on Friday night at Middlesex Community College, then woke up bright and early Saturday to work on new ideas from the night before. And a nice gig Saturday night with The Lindsays for St. Kevin Emerald Knights Senior Drum and Bugle Corps' golf tournament... Then, tonight a long practice session that just wrapped up. We were at an all-day birthday party today and after a while, I was just itching to get home to practice. I got home, and immediately pulled out the soprano sax, and worked through Joe Viola's Scale Studies for Saxophone, a Berklee publication. What fun! Sometimes it's like that -- you play and get the feeling that you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing, that this is what you are meant to do. Ooh, that feels great. A gift.

I realized tonight how much things have changed. The true measure: On Thursday, Steve announced that he'd gotten laid off from his job (yes you read that correctly). Rather than fretting about the mortgage, I thought, "Wow! How cool! He'll have so much time to practice now!"

Please send help. Soul Mama gone mad.

But, on another note: I just got an email, this very second, from a co-blogger, who was inspired by the 100 days, and started one of her own: working on a novel she's had in her head for years! Rock on, Troutesse!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2, Day 4: This could happen to you.

Practice, folks, and this barrel of leiderhosen-wearing polka fun could be yours!Actually, DON'T practice, and this is what you might end up like. The choice is yours. Exhibit A: Stage Door Canteen poses as the polka band last night at Liam Maguire's Oktoberfest. Fun. Another reason it's nice to keep on playing music.

Also great fun tonight was playing with Caravan at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Mass. Caravan is a world music improvisational trio with me, Salil Sachdev on percussion, and Tom Rhode on guitar. Tonight, I felt like the practice has paid off. The sax, the flute: they felt great.

Full disclosure on practice today: Because I was out celebrating Oktoberfest in traditional fashion (and, yes, in traditional garb) last night, it was a headachey morning. No 5 am rise for me! Today's practice entailed just a half hour or so of preparation mid-day for tonight's concert. I'm with BrassDoc (Don, that's you) on this one: sometimes we get so busy doing music that we don't have time to practice. Bad musicians! Punishment shall rain down upon you! Little man in leiderhosen shall come out of cuckoo clock wielding his tiny little hammer! No... much better punishment: Several Stage Door Canteen bandmembers come out of clock simultaneously sight-reading and transposing "Beer Barrel Polka" up a whole step, in real time.

Let that be a warning.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2, Day 3: Practice Tips, Redux

Good morning! It's 7 am. I've practiced three instruments and stretched, totalling 75 min. I've run the dishwasher. I've gotten caught up on email. I've even cleaned the shower. (Well, I sprayed bleach all over it and walked away. It worked! Just don't breathe in the bathroom. It's toxic.)

So, this has become Practice Tip 1: Schedule it! Same time, every day, immutable. For me, that means: Get up early. Get it done! I can give this tip with some surety, as I've been through the first 100 days now. I know for a fact that the 5 am wakey-wakey is the only way to go for me. Find what works for you, guard it like a dog bone, and growl furiously at anyone who dares approach.

And here are some more, some of which you may remember from the first 100. Reminders are good.

2. Control your environment. It really helps to be uninterrupted. Let family and others in your household know that you need focused time. Select a space that is away from the fray of daily life: a basement room, or on a different floor of the house. We're lucky here at Casa Soul. We built a soundproof room in the basement, but it's not perfect. It has mice. Fortunately, they are scared of saxophones.

3. Keep the space tidy. A cluttered space can result in a cluttered mind. If you spend the first ten minutes of your supposed practice time just trying to find your instrument under piles of clothes, empty bottles, and paper, you will waste practice time.

4. Whenever you can, practice when no one's home, or when no one else is awake. You'll feel better trying new things if you know there's no one around to hear you.

5. Secure the support of those you need most, whether it be your close friends, your spouse, your partner, or God forbid, us here in the 100 Days community. Let them know that daily practice is important to you. If it really is that important to you, you'll find that you're a far more pleasant person to be around when you're doing it. The rewards will be obvious both to you and to those around you.

6. On that note, no matter how important practice is, take care of your family/friends first. Your practice will have much greater chances of success if it is in balance with the rest of your life. If you are skipping the family dinner in order to practice, you may find that family or your partner resents your efforts, and as a result, any efforts you make will be counterbalanced with the work you have to do to right your relationship.

7. But, ironically, also put yourself first. There are people who are needy, who suck the living soul out of us, and can't stand it that music is more important to us than they are, and they like to tell us that either directly or passive-aggressively. Lose them. They are not your allies, not now and not later. They're okay for occasional dates, but don't marry them.

8. Turn off the phone. Calls can wait 'til you're done. It's too easy for a phone call to completely derail your practice session.

9. Take your time. Especially when your practice time is limited, remember that it's quantity over quality. It's better to spend 20 minutes working out that two-measure bug in a tune you've been learning than to rush through all ten songs that you're trying to keep current.

10. Play slowly. Better to play a tune once or twice, but do it right, than to play it twenty times but repeat the same mistakes. Playing slowly also exposes your weak points. You'll quickly see which parts of the tune you don't really know, when you force yourself to play a tune very slowly.

11. Listen carefully. Don't let yourself get away with anything! Record yourself, if you can, and listen back. Did you hit all the notes with equal strength? Are you on the beat? Is your fingering sloppy in some passages? You've got to kick your own butt. That's a good reason to...

12. Stretch! Partway through your session, stretch out. Stand up straight and reach your hands as high as you can into the air, keeping your lower back tucked in, not arched. Then stretch down to your toes and hang out there for a few breaths. Stand up. Twist, both your neck and your waist. Stretch your sides. All of this very slowly, all while breathing. Stretching partway through a session can be more effective than at the beginning because your muscles are then warmed up, and you'll get more out of the stretches. Bottom line: Keep your body together. It's just as important as your instrument. In fact, it's what makes the instrument work.

13. Remain focused. Don't phone it in. Especially once you're getting to know your tunes well, or when you're working on one of your daily practice routines (such as playing long tones), it's easy to tune out and not pay attention. You may find that you've been playing for ten minutes and not heard a single note you've played... instead, you were thinking about the guy who pissed you off in the grocery store line, the paper that's due tomorrow, or the car repairs you haven't yet scheduled. To help you stay focused, keep a sheet of paper beside you and jot down the things you need to deal with later, but then FORGET about them until AFTER you practice.

14. Be musical! Even if you're working on scales or long tones, you're still making music. Make it beautiful. Make it expressive. Make it meaningful. This is not a drill. This is art.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2, Day 2: Whistling Through the Darkness

We've got some joiners, folks. Welcome, Bridgewater State College people. The BSC crew has heard tell. They're here, and they're taking names.

To welcome our newbies, here's a freshman orientation:

What this blog is about
: Me. Just kidding. It's about the experience of being a musician, about balancing music with life, about balancing life with living, about neurosis and joyfulness.

Why this blog: Because it's easy to spend so much time making a living in music that you forget to actually play music. Okay, not everyone has this problem. The ones who don't? I don't like those kinds of people, but I put up with them because they are really good musicians, and sometimes they're nice. (Kidding! I love them all.) They can't help but practice every day. I used to feel bad that I wasn't one of them, until a Berklee professor and drummer who's been on some big name, hear-'em-everywhere albums told me that every musician who's REALLY good (i.e., Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Steve Gadd...) has OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They need practice to function. Okay, okay. Not all of them have OCD. All I know is, I'm not one of them. I'm the other kind of musician, who finds it hard to practice every day, and I function just fine. Sigh. I have always had a problem with practice.

I remember complaining about this to my sax professor in college, who looked at me in shock, and said, "Do you think I jump out of bed and into my pants every morning, because I can't wait to start practicing?" Ah, the sax professor. I can see his polyester double knits like it was just yesterday. I always wondered if they held their shape when he wasn't wearing them. Let's just say that polyester double knits were way out of style when I was in college, and he wore them every day. Fashion disaster aside, man, was he a good sax player. And an amazing teacher. Point: He wore stiff pants. No, wait. Sorry; let me try that again. Point: Many amazing musicians don't want to practice. But they do it anyway. Because worse than having to practice every day is walking on stage and feeling unprepared, or looking back on a performance and knowing it could have been better if you had put in more time. Knowing that you have more in you than you are tapping.

So that's why. Because it's good to practice, it's important to practice, but it's not always easy. Life is super busy. We have homework, housework, bills, pets, kids, buddies, girlfriends and boyfriends, cars... stuff. Not easy to fit practice in. But guess what? If you love music, you have to practice.

And it's fun to have company.

What's in this blog: Practice tips, anecdotes, inspiring quotes, complaints, celebrations, totally pointless stories, heartwarming tales, silly jokes, photos, a few more practice tips, informative articles, occasional slightly shameless self-promotion, and maybe even a recipe or two. But nothing irrelevant. It's all somehow about the experience of being a musician.

In the next 100 days, you may meet any of the following cast of characters, or perhaps others:

-Soul Mama: Chick who writes this blog. AKA The Evil Professor, AKA The Budhette, AKA The Tasmanian Terror.

-Soul Papa: Dude who's married to chick who writes this blog. Soul Papa plays guitar.

-Mini Me: Soul Parents' Kid. Mini Me says, with convincing conviction, that it's going to snow next Tuesday.

-The Sherpa: Okay, I admit it. I have a coach. We talk sometimes. She gives good advice.

-Pat the Fabulous: Musician friend who went to Berklee in 30s, with twin girls at home... then opened her own music school that is thriving today. She does lots of yoga. She has smart ideas. She is reasonable, sensible, and she is good people.

-Peig and Deb: 100 Day Veterans.

There are others. You will meet them. Perhaps you will become one of them.

We don't mind. As long as you practice every day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2: Day 1

Today, it begins again, with a reminder that things never go as expected! I set expanded goals for myself, thanks to time and space and a weekend away. This time around, the goal is to go for 1 hour a day, and that hour must include: a little stretching, some flute, and some saxophone.

And, also today, I planned for an hour of practice in the afternoon, after I finished work. Well, I worked for an extra four hours, not by choice but it had to happen. It's 6:47 pm. I'm about to go into a class that lasts til 9:30, then drive home... then practice for an hour? Jeesh. Yes. I will do it. This time around might be kind of hard.

But a reminder for the next 100 days, courtesy of a book that I'm editing:

" matter the obstacles, you’ve got to be determined to achieve that goal.  Or get close to that goal.  Or as close to the goal as you can get."

Now, with an understanding that an hour might not always be possible, but that it is a little more possible than I might think, my goal is to get as close to that goal as I can get.

100 days from now is January 21. By that time, the Lindsays should have a completed CD. They'll also have completed a little round of Christmas concerts at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, Scituate Library, and Highfield Hall in Falmouth. They'll have participated in a Dudley Street tribute band at the Boston Celtic Music Festival... a recreation of the old Irish dance halls from the 1940s, complete with saxophones and trumpet. Santa will have come, we will have spent a week in Ireland, and I'll be about to start my spring semester at Bridgewater. And I'll be a better saxophone player.

Can't wait!

Friday, October 9, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 101: It Shall Begin Again. Come Back.

Today is the Day After 100. I didn’t even check in on the magical day 100, because I didn’t have the chance. Too busy with teaching, and making giant leaf piles in the yard with the neighborhood kids. And today, Mini Me was supposed to be in preschool. But her head and hands felt feverish last night, and I opted to keep her out of school. So, now we’re sitting side by side on the couch while PBS does something that’s supposed to be educational for kids. (I’m not fooled, but I’m in denial. A girl needs to get things done, after all.) I had planned today to be Day 1 of the Next 100, but I’ve had some thoughts.

Thoughts on the first 100: Nothing goes as expected, does it? Here the old clichés apply: Nothing worth doing is easy. Change doesn’t happen overnight. And, it takes 90 days to make a new habit. That’s why I chose 100, just to be safe. Nice try, but I think it’s going to take longer than 90, or 100, days to make this new habit. At the end of the 100 I can say this: I do practice, in a focused way now, and more than I used to. I’m sure that something has changed, and I’ve probably gotten better. But I’m not feeling it. I need more time.

I do have some insight. What is required for what I’ll call an effective Practice Lifestyle:

Consistency: Same time, same place, every day, when possible. Then it becomes a habit.

Sacrifice: In my house, if I really want consistency, my ONLY solution is to get up before everyone else, make my tea, and run downstairs to the practice room before having to engage with anyone. But that means waking up at 5:00. And that means going to bed early. And that means a LOT of other sacrifices, which may or may not make sense if I want a healthy work/play balance. Sometimes we just need to stay up late and frolic with friends; sometimes we need to say, “I’d love to hang out, but I have an early start tomorrow.”

Flexibility: We have a kid. Parenting is unpredictable. Sometimes kids wake up too early, are sick, have tantrums, need extra attention. For example, right now, Mini Me REALLY wants to play with this laptop. A few more “not right now’s” and I’ll have to give in.

Balance: It makes me really sad when I meet a mom who says she used to be musician/actress/artist, but says she put it aside when she had kids. What about her creative yearnings? Of course, it also makes me sad when I leave my little girl with a babysitter the third day in a row to go a day-long gig. But playdates don’t fill my soul like clubdates, and Mini Me seems like a real happy kid. This lifestyle allows for plenty of beach and leaf pile time, too. And just in the last ten minutes alone, she’s twice said, spontaneously, “Mommy, I love you” and then continued on whatever she was doing. That works for me.

Reality and Forgiveness: Some days it may not be possible to practice. Making a living, balancing a family, and keeping a home together takes time. Practice may simply not be possible to do every day, but I’m holding out for the possibility that it is. Some days in this first 100, I had to let rehearsal or a gig take the place of actual long-tone-filled practice. I called it “redefining ‘practice’” some days. On cynical days, I called it “rationalizing.” But it’s more than either of those. It’s about finding a practice schedule that works for your individual situation and temperament. Don’t use other people’s yardsticks to measure your own yard.

* * *

We’re on a bit of a roll, folks. But still, there’s work to do. New heights to reach. We’re not done yet. I’m going to enjoy the holiday weekend, and use the three-day weekend to lay low and think about goals for the next 100. I’ll see you here on Tuesday morning, refreshed, with new and specific goals, and then we’ll begin again. If you’ve got something else you want to do for the next 100 days (get back to daily yoga, eat healthy, do creative writing, exercise, whatever…) please feel free to pick one and join the fun. See you on Tuesday.

Mini Me, who finally got her hands on the laptop, had this to add:

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 99, Part II: Why I Love My Job

This is why I love my job. Tonight, I came across this, in something I'm editing for Berklee:

"No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two-pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."

—C.S. Lewis

Practicing, at its apex, should really about refining our ability to deliver honesty through the poetry of music. It's not about getting better than others; it's about perfecting our communicative art. It's not about learning unique material for its own sake, but rather learning something new when it happens to be the best vehicle for honest expression. It's about polishing our ability to speak the universal.

These sorts of nuggets convince me not to quit my day job.

Now it's REALLY time to go practice.


100 Days of Practice, Day 99: Stay tuned for the big wrap-up.

Still here. You are too, I guess. We've almost made it. Tomorrow is the big day, day 100. When I think about finishing, all I really think about is that it's time to begin the next 100, but I've been thinking that for a while now. About 60 days ago, I realized that 100 is not enough. Gotta be a year, really. So, for now, questions: Have I improved? I have no idea. Have you improved? Have I made practice into a solid habit yet? Um... Have you? I'll keep thinking about this and get back to you tomorrow. For now, I gotta work, then practice, then get to bed.

Monday, October 5, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 97: Photos

Most kids walk into our house and see the big piano, and run to it. Bang the keys. A real piano! Such a novelty! Someone asked us if our kid had expressed interest in it yet. No... I actually don't think she notices it, despite the fact that it's only slightly smaller than our elephantine couch. So, what piques her interest, you ask? I found out today. Because today I did something very, very unusual. I ironed. Imagine the next ten hours: "Yes, for the hundredth time... we will find a toy iron for you..."

But that's just kid stuff (albeit fun!). The grownup stuff is studio work. Finished our third day yesterday with six songs partially done, and two incredible percussion tracks courtesy of Salil Sachdev. All of this possible because Godmother Extraordinaire/Sister Incroyable flew up from DC to frolic with Mini Me for three full days, while Big Me and Other Me toiled at the microphones. Some gals have all the luck. We count ourselves tres fortunate to have such family.

Here are a few scenes from yesterday's work. Here, Small Fry sits behind a microphone that is worth more than Mommy's car. Now, forgive me on the layout here. The photo layout on boggles my mind, but you can put 2 and 2 together... Check out the photo of the stuff in the control room. I have no idea what it is, but the blinking lights were captivating. Gearheads, I hear the pitter patter of your hearts--but the gear has nothing to do with it. It's the expertise, and we just can't really say this enough: engineer Rob Pemberton is The Man. Somebody's gotta know how to work it, and also how to work us. And therein lies the artistry.
And let's not forget Salil. God bless Salil. Look at this instrument, a water drum that Salil brought back from Africa. Water-filled gourds lend positively mystical sound to "One Last Cold Kiss"...

Very interesting things are happening. Can't wait to share the finished project with you...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 96: Guitar tracks!

Saturday: a full day, and just guitar tracks for four songs, but oh my goodness, they sound wonderful! Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 95: Couldn't resist.

What a day! Nine hours in the studio and most of what we did was just record "Demo" wedding material, but not The Record Itself. The studio is located on a seven-acre horse farm in Middleboro, so to the left you see our entry... and look way in the distance, and you'll see Mr. Horse standing across the road. Not being too much of a Country Mouse myself, I wasn't quite sure what would happen. So I drove sloooooowly...

And this is what happened. Mrs. Horse got a sniff of Steve's guitar. It was so fun that all we could do was just sit there and laugh, not really pondering the effects of horse tongue on guitar case.

A good start, really. Three hours or so of setup and getting sounds, we finally got to work on our first task, which was just to run through all of our "wedding material" so that I have nice recordings to send to inquiring brides. Turns out, there's no such thing as a "quick run through." It took us from appx. 1 - 8 pm, with a long lunch break (downtown Middleboro has a Honeydew Donuts!), to record about eight demo pieces, lovely waltzes and heartfelt airs. By 9:00, we were so ready to rip out "Sixteen Jolly Ravers"-- a klezmerish, upbeat salty fisherman's song... and then it was time to go. The real work begins today.

The right way to do a CD is to plan, plan, plan. Figure all the songs out ahead of time, rehearse them, plan for additional instruments, then record -- and everything goes smoothly. Right? Anyone want to guess how much planning we did? Let's just say we've been busy... with other things. Sigh. And being fairly low maintenance folks, we wanted just the duo, playing on CD exactly as we do live. We didn't want to make a big production of it. Turns out that that is not a good idea, and that's why we are thankful to have the professional advice of Rob Pemberton--world class engineer. Rob Pemberton convinced us to make a production of it. It'll be bigger than we thought. And better, too, I think. And that is exciting.

Here's a little info about Sounds Interesting. I admit it, I wrote this, too--wearing my Marketing Lady hat. (And that, Virginia, is how a musician can pay for a CD.)

Here goes:

Sounds Interesting is owned by prolific composer, producer, and industry icon Erik Lindgren, and operated in collaboration with a top notch production and engineering team that combines the experience of renowned engineer Rob Pemberton with the production, remix, programming, and sequencing talents of Brian Cass. A close partnership with RPC Audio means clients have access to the most cutting-edge digital and analog equipment available anywhere—any time, all the time.

Tucked away in a rural retreat setting but only an hour to Boston and Providence, Sounds Interesting is a vanguard digital and analog recording studio that delivers full-service production and engineering in a breathtaking and inspiring creative environment.

On the outside, Sounds Interesting’s two-story structure blends peacefully into its bucolic rural setting. On the inside, it houses a cutting edge recording studio—built specifically from the ground up to be an optimal recording environment, and outfitted with the very best equipment available anywhere, all impeccably maintained and always customized to match your precise project needs. The studio’s close relationship with RPC Audio means perpetual access to the very finest equipment in the world; Sounds Interesting serves as a laboratory for RPC’s new and custom equipment.

Sounds Interesting’s ground floor houses a two-tiered 16 x 24 studio and a spacious 18 x 20 floating control room. Both rooms are acoustically designed with tall ceilings, stretched fabric, special acoustic brick, sophisticated soffit work, oak flooring, and a 5 x 7 double glass window separating the two spaces. The studio also has a picture window and French doors that open out to a patio and a large field where horses graze.

On the studio’s main floor are two large rooms with cathedral ceilings and pine flooring, a comfortable 16 x 30 lounge furnished with Victorian antiques and sleeper sofas, and a 20 x 20 office. In addition, there are two bathrooms (one full and one half), two closets, and a tile-floor mudroom. The main floor is wired with tie lines that make it possible to utilize each space as an isolation chamber. Pine floors, exposed beams, and oriental rugs add to the overall "country inn" decor. Take a break on the glorious deck that overlooks Middleborough's two-thousand-acre Great Cedar Swamp.

Since 1978, Sounds Interesting has been owned and operated by Erik Lindgren, who recently partnered with Rob Pemberton and Brian Cass, who will serve as the studio’s full-time engineers.

(What I didn't add into the marketing copy is that, on very special days, the swamp sometimes smells like a leaky gas pipe. But, believe me, you get used to it. With all those incredible features above, the slight "odeur du swampe" fades to nothing.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Day 94: But I did...and now we're in studio!

Didn't wanna the other day, but I did and it was big fun.

Now.... you won't hear much from me the next three days, most likely, as Steve and I will be at Sounds Interesting Studios in Middleboro, Mass., getting a start on our next CD. All this practice... better pay off in wonderful music.