Posts Tagged ‘music school meta’

Last night I went to a jazz recital in support of a friend. It was one of those recitals where I wasn’t sure if I’d like the music at all, and usually those are the recitals I don’t attend, but like I said, I was going to support a friend, so there I was in the back of the audience, ready to listen to the music of Tim Berne. Incidentally, if you have no idea who he is, clicking the link may be a helpful resource. But I digress.

The music was like a strange kaleidescope, shifting from sonic texture to groove and pausing at every place in between. There were people moving and head-bobbing in the audience, although I’m not sure how they did it aside from sheer force of will. It was the kind of thing I could only observe as closely as possible. And it was interesting, to hear the shifts as they occurred, the way you couldn’t count on any sort of solid ground to rest your ears on. You just had to keep listening. I think there’s a kind of hope and trust involved in that, you know? Whatever comes next could potentially be terrible, but everything that’s come before has been great, so you just hold on and keep listening.

And there was, too, this really interesting idea of strain. What I mean is, at least when I play bassoon, I try to make everything look and sound super easy. But here, I could tell when things were hard and I liked that. Maybe it wasn’t intentional — sometimes I think things aren’t universal and it turns out I’m being too forgiving — but I really liked it. Why should we pretend all music is easy for us? Sometimes it’s crazy difficult and even if I’m nailing it, isn’t it okay to get a little sympathy? Or maybe not.

There’s this weird and almost unbelievable dichotomy between classical and jazz majors at Eastman, sometimes I feel like we’re oil and water and no one’s interested enough to mix us. But sometimes, there we are in the same room, and I’m so glad that I went to the most unlikely recital and that my ears had this sonic adventure. Of course I come to this realization at the end of the school year, but on the other hand, better late than never, right?


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In the time between my last update and now, I’ve added an English major (with a concentration in creative writing) to my bassoon performance major. I’d been thinking about it since October of my freshman year at Eastman, and kept deciding against being a dual degree student because of the increased workload. After all, when I was in high school, I had always looked forward to music school as the place where I “wouldn’t have to choose between music and everything else”.

So in case you are a reader who loves music and something else too, or if you have absolutely no idea why anybody would ever double major at music school, I figured I would explain.

I love English. I’m always reading a book, always thinking of ideas for stories. During freshman theory (when they explained things to us 500 different ways so we would for sure understand triads and cadences) I scribbled down poems in the margins of my notes. I’ve spent a probably embarrassing about of money at Better World Books, getting inexpensive used books and also saving the world one book at a time.

The thing is, as much as I love English, that is how much I love bassoon. Maybe I love bassoon a little more — it has less going for it, the awkwardness of the instrument, the joy and challenge of making reeds, the inherent difficulties of flicking. The Ravel Piano Concerto excerpt, the beginning of the Rite of Spring, the three dozen Vivaldi concerti.
When you love something like that, love everything about it, to make a decision to spend even more time away is difficult. It takes a while. It takes a terrible, awful creative writing class offered within the music school and practice breaks spent absorbed in novel after novel.

Last semester was my first semester as a dual degree student. Four times a week I boarded a bus to the main campus of the University of Rochester, usually reading a book on the trip, and was greeted by the stereotypical college campus. (Yes, there was grass! Once it was spring, that is.)
The thing that I loved was taking English classes with people who love English just as much as I do. Eastman does offer non-music classes (we have to take one a semester, or else a class at the main campus) but the other students are usually disinterested (I love them!!) and the professors constantly talk to us as though we could barely comprehend their subject. Now, my teachers challenged my thought processes, sending me back to the books, analyzing literature between the lines. Now, they had me look at each individual word of my writing, judging it, feeling it, seeing if it was perfect. Seeing if it was overused or misplaced.

This semester was hard. I took 22 credit hours. I was often really tired — although this has a lot to do with my theory and aural skills classes more than English. (You try writing 8-12 pages about scenes from Tristan und Isolde, along with leitmotive charts, form charts, roman numeral analysis, and so on!)
But no matter how busy, I loved it so much. I learned so much about bassoon and making music this semester (the subject of another post?), and I learned so much about English.

When you’re doing what you love beyond words, being pushed to the limit is all right. More than that: it’s pretty much fantastic.
So that’s why I added an English major, in case you’re curious.

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One thing I hate: musicians with obnoxiously low self-esteem. Well, actually I don’t mind those with low self-esteem, I mind those people who broadcast their feeling to the entire world. It’s emotionally draining — there have been people who I have to assure, practically on every encounter, that yes, they are a good musician, yes, they sound awesome, yes, they are so not terrible.

And yet I really can’t complain, because there are numerous times when I, too, have struggled with low self-esteem when it comes to playing the bassoon, and when I’ve relied far too heavily on my friends to tell me that, “Yeah, Rachel, you know how you keep saying you suck? Way to be delusional.”

So I think that low self-esteem is a problem everyone struggles with, and especially musicians. After all, we sit alone in practice rooms trying to figure out what’s bad about our playing. We go to rehearsals where conductors — or our peers — tell us that this note is out of tune, this note has too hard an attack, this phrase does not go anywhere. We ask to be chastised. We get better by noticing our flaws.

Before I go further, let me say that one should never become self-congratulatory. I tend to fall into this trap very easily. I want to be happy! So I congratulate on getting my butt to a practice room, congratulate myself on picking up the bassoon, and congratulate myself on making a reed that will play, however dubiously. These practice sessions are always short and always, if not completely ineffective, then certainly much less effective than they could be.

So back to being down on ourselves. This is not a bad thing. In the end, that out-of-tune note in the Shostakovitch 9 solo will probably keep you from winning the job of your dreams, so it is completely in one’s best interest to notice that it’s out of tune, every time.
But one also has to make sure to fix these problems, and this, I think, is where we musicians can escape the path of obnoxiously low self-esteem.

See, it’s one thing to say, “Gee, that sucks!” and then delve into what, exactly, was so sucktastic about the passage. (You can use better English than me, I am sure.) But obviously just acknowledging this gets one nowhere. You’ve got to fix it — and then, I think, you have to enjoy the feeling of fixing the problem. It’s okay to celebrate your awesomeness when you’ve nailed the Ravel Piano Concerto excerpt or when you’ve gotten your double tonguing ten clicks faster. You are fixing problems. You are indeed awesome!
After really productive practice sessions I like to treat myself. Maybe it’s concocting a super amazing dessert in the cafeteria (luckily, they ONLY thing our cafeteria does well are desserts) or taking some time before bed to read some of my favorite book or letting myself have some chill time with friends. This keeps me feeling happy about my progress without getting too cocky. The reward is in the music, and in the fact that the music allows me to create something beautiful. And when I create something beautiful, everything gets more beautiful. So why not celebrate?

Just don’t get too carried away with all the celebration. There’s always something to improve.
At least, there definitely is for me. But I’m going to fix it!

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In the past few days I’ve had so much to say, but no time to say it in. Life has been crazy! It’s also been amazing.

Today, for instance, I woke up wanting to listen to Okkervil River on the way to lunch from practicing. I was only about twenty seconds into “Our Life Is Not A Movie or Maybe” and suddenly I was nearly in tears. The combination of the lead singer’s voice and the music and the gorgeous lyrics were so unexpectedly moving.
I mean, how can this line not be dazzling:

It’s a life story, so there’s no climax.

I could write volumes about that line. It’s so gorgeous.

Also today, I had a rehearsal with my accompanist — which is always a treat, because a) he’s a fantastic accompanist and b) I worked with accompanists a grand total of twice before college — and things just fell into place on the David. I’ve come a long way since the beginning of the year; it was so obvious that he mentioned it.
I can’t wait until I get to play the David in studio! The piece, especially the fast movement, takes on a slightly different character with accompaniment, and it’s so much more fun to play.

Also today, my iPod wouldn’t play!
Thank goodness all I had to do was reset it. What’s a music school student to do without her music?
Probably practice more bassoon…

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Today was the first day of classes — although Fractals doesn’t start until Wednesday — and I’m thinking this is going to be a high-quality semester. Even having theory at 8:30 every morning cannot possibly bring me down.
For one thing, we’re playing really fun, really difficult music in this concert Wind Orchestra! I’ve been hoping for a hard rotation, and it looks like Mr. Hunt caught on to my brainwaves. I’m playing all second bassoon, but a lot of it is unison and deliciously difficult, including a high C-sharp in the same piece that starts off with a low B-natural. Rock on.

At dinner I was talking to some friends about politics, and I’m wondering: How much do a candidate’s religious views play into the vote? (Hey, just because I go to music school doesn’t mean I can’t talk politics!)
For my part, I honestly care very little about a candidate’s religion. My president is not my pastor, and although our church and state are not as separated as they could be (not that I’m necessarily complaining), I don’t think that having an athiest/Catholic/Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/Scientologist president is at all worrisome. Unless their religion gets in the way of their politics. I mean, I want a good person to be president. I want a competent, intelligent, well-intentioned president. I want someone who actually knows how to work foreign policy — this is a big issue for me. But if my president isn’t a WASP? I don’t care. Just tell me about their views. Show me their voting record. Talk to me about the good or bad they’ve done in the political arena. But I don’t care about their religion, outside of these areas. I mean, this is America. Should their religion matter in the slightest? I think the answer’s obvious. Then again, I usually do.

I know I’m back at music school when I’m itching to talk politics. Because one can only talk about Alfred Reed and the placement or ritardandi for so long, right?
That said, I am off to practice!

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I visited my high school today and it was a little surreal. It wasn’t terrible at all, though, mainly because I have some fantastic teachers who made sure I wouldn’t randomly get kicked out. (Also, someone misplaced my scale study sheet… But that’s okay, after doing scales an hour a day, I have them memorized. Sometimes it’s handy to enjoy scales.)

I talked so much about music school. It’s hard for me to explain how different and yet homelike Eastman is for me, but I tried. I used too many words, mostly. Sometimes I think I used too few words. The intention was the same. Music school isn’t for everyone, but it’s for me and I love it and if you think you love it, you should try it.

I’d originally thought I’d go and warn the kids I encountered (the ones who want to do music, the ones who look like me a year or two ago) about how hard it is. How busy it is. How discouraging it can get. But I heard that enough when I was them, a year or two ago, and what I wanted so much to hear was: it’s gorgeous, it’s wonderful, you might just keep on playing and playing until you’re madly in love. So that’s what I tried to say.

Because sometimes, when I’m not there, I can feel my heart start to break from missing music school. (That’s dorky, right?) But then I catch myself smiling — because you can’t be in love without a little heartbreak. You might forget about it.

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It seems like I just can’t keep from updating this blog! In Miami it was definitely weird, not being able to update the greater online world about my bassoon-ish exploits. Or my crazy larking about.
Hey, these things amuse some people. (And to all of you: I am forever grateful.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about classical musicians and classical music today, probably because I was listening to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade and am now listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows. Should classical musicians be listening more or less exclusively to classical music? I’m torn.

For one thing, although I grew up listening to classical music (until I was around eleven, I thought pop music was all kind of dirty), pop music makes it easier for me to relate to the people around me. I can start playing a Beatles track and everyone in the room will catch the drift of whatever I’m trying to express. I can’t always do that with classical music, even if what I’m trying to explain is why the first minute of Rite of Spring always takes my breath away.

Furthermore, I frankly often feel intimidated listening to classical music. I rarely know the theory behind a given piece, and sometimes don’t know the history (yeah, I know this is not the usual complaint), and sometimes other classical musicians seem to act as though these things are required. And sometimes, to be honest, I don’t want to listen to an hour-long symphony. I just don’t have the time or mental energy to process.

But here’s the thing about classical music that always draws me back: It more consistently expresses thoughts and feelings more clearly and beautifully than any other music I can think of. The first movement of Resphigi’s Pines of Rome never fails to bring a smile to my face, and Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto always takes me on a wild rollercoaster of emotions that transcends my powers of explanation. Anything by Samuel Barber is guaranteed to hold within it the nuances of so many feelings I don’t have the power to express in any way other than by experiencing that music.

I love these transcendent experiences, but all the same I feel as though the fact that I listen to a variety of music makes these experiences more powerful, and the music that creates them that much more important. And here’s the thing, too: sometimes music can be transcendent that isn’t classical, and sometimes some classical music just isn’t transcendent, to me.

In the end, can I say it’s a bad thing that I’ll listen to that magic second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and then skip over to Andrew Bird’s sultry “Skin Is, My”?

You should know I’m not going to say that. You should know that I’m going to keep doing it — and letting those choices and those moments of transcendent beauty continue to shape me as a bassoonist. Because, seriously? Someone has got to figure out some more sultry bassoon solos. They are way too few and far between.

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