I've never really considered myself a traveler. I don't really like long car rides, flying makes me nervous, and while I've never been on a cruise, the idea of being surrounded by water makes me pretty uneasy. That being said, I was lucky enough to spend my last three weeks of summer in three different states performing, learning, relaxing, and teaching. After working in the office at the UNCG Summer Music Camp, I hopped on a plane two days later a headed to LA. There I attended Jim Walker's Beyond the Masterclass. Immediately following this 6 day masterclass, I headed to Maine to visit to family's lake house for a couple days. After this relaxing trip, I traveled is Mercersburg, Pennsylvania to teach at Yorktown High School's marching band camp.
LA Here I Come - Beyond the Masterclass
Los Angeles, California. Let me tell you, the weather is *amazing*. This masterclass took place at The Colburn School in downtown LA, catty corner to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I was one of about 25 participants. Each of us had to opportunity to play in a masterclass for Jim, have a private lesson with him, take a mock audition , participate in an orchestra duos class, and perform on a student recital. It was an intense, stressful, nerve-wracking, and rewarding experience.
We arrived at Colburn on Sunday, July 21. I was first to perform in the masterclass the following morning. I had spent my summer practicing experts and was determined to play a couple for Jim in the class. In my 30 minute slot I was able to play the excerpt from William Tell, Leonore Overture, and the solo for Daphnis et Chloe.
Tuesday afternoon was the orchestra duos class where my partner and I performed and excerpt from Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 and that evening I performed on the second student recital where I played Andante et Scherzo by Louis Ganne. Wednesday afternoon was the mock audition. All the participants played Mendelssohn's Scherzo and the solo from Brahms 4. The Associate Principle flutists and Second flutists of the LA Philharmonic were the adjudicators and provided each of us with feedback on our audition. Thursday night we visited the Hollywood Bowl where we saw the LA Phil perform with Yuja Wang. Incredibly the staff at Beyond the Masterclass was able to arrange a short meet and greet with Gustavo Dudamel after the concert. And finally, on Friday I had my private lesson with Jim and playing in a flute choir for our final concert. It was a jam packed week to say the least.
So if you know me well, then you know that my biggest insecurity in my playing in my technique. What can I say, I have slow and somewhat sloppy fingers. While I've worked hard to improve it, my fingers still have their moments. Needless to say, my playing flaws were certainly on my mind throughout the week. When you're put in a setting like this, you can't help but compare yourself to others. I, unfortunately, tend to think to myself when I'm in these situations that, "I don't want to make an idiot of myself". Is that a helpful and confident thing to think? No, but ultimately, I would rather not make an idiot of myself. I try my best to look at things objectively when in a high stress comparative situation. Was a one of the best players there? Absolutely not. There were some incredibly talented young flutists that could play circles around me. But I played my best, I learned a lot, and I what work I need to do.
Reflecting back in this week, I've had time to let the dust settle and I can clearly start to processes everything I've learned. While sometimes the never ending work to become the best player you can seems daunting, hearing other peoples stories of their careers and struggles always puts the work into perspective. Each day it seemed like Jim had a overarching theme or just one piece of incredible advice, so I've shared each of them below. While I have my work cut out for me, I'm beyond inspired. It's gonna take time and maybe it will be frustrating at points but this is all apart of the journey.
"No matter how ridiculous the pressure is, always remember to think about the music"
"Intonation is a matter of morality"
"Don't play the age game"
"Every time you breath, it is going to be an enormous event because you have used up all your air"
"Don't worry about breaking a whole lot of rules if you sound great"
"Don't play safe. You have to go for it"
One Cross Country Flight Later and I'm in Maine
After an intense flute week, what better way to start internalizing everything I learned than floating on a lake?
As I left Colburn, I pretty much had a 24 hour travel day to Maine. I took a redeye from LA to Greensboro, spent a relaxing 5 hours at my house where I unpacked and repacked, then hopped on a plane to Bangor, Maine. I had been looking forward to a trip up to my parents lake house ever since they bought the property back in February. We hung out with my niece, drank beer, kayaked, paddle boated, swam, and ate sea food. It was a much needed break.
While I did bring my flute with the intentions to practice, I didn't take it out of my bag once. I did, however, constantly think about how I was not practicing. Whenever I'm not practicing I feel guilty that I should be practicing. I mean, after the week I just came from, of course I wanted to start applying everything I had learned. But taking a break is important. And while the guilt was certainly there during the week, not playing my flute felt good and allowed me time to process everything I had learned.
Year 7 on Staff in the Books
As my three week marathon of travel continued, I left Maine on Friday, August 2 and spent a blissful 24 hours at home in Greensboro. The next day, I packed my car up and headed to Mercersburg, Pennsylvania for a week of band camp teaching sectionals and marching technique at my alma mater Yorktown High School.
I was asked to be on staff after my Freshman year of college and this year marked by 7th band camp on staff (10th band camp overall). Every year I look forward to this week. While it's a week of being outside in the heat, long days, early mornings, it's also a week of laughter and memories. I get to catch up with other staff members (some of who were on staff when I was in high school!) as well as all my little fluties. Yorktown has been coming to Mercersburg Academy for camp for over 20 years, so it is also a week that is rooted in tradition. Students participate in a campfire, partake in section specific traditions (like toga Wednesday for the flutes/piccs), skit night, and initiation. This week is something that hasn't changed much over the past 7 years and it has become a sort of constant in my life.
This years' flute section consisted of 9 flutes and 4 piccolos, and each day of camp we spend about 2 hours in sectionals and 1 hour in full ensemble rehearsal. Working with a group of students that you are unfamiliar with always has its challenges. One the biggest challenges for me is figuring out how to give beneficial information to students of all different levels. While I am there to help guide them with their specific marching band music, I look at this week as an opportunity to give them more instrument specific instruction that they may not receive in band class. Many of these students don't study privately, so I want to give them as many "tips" as I can in order for them to improve their flute playing. Some overarching concepts we covered this week included:
Support - This word is something that gets used an extraordinary amount with little in depth explanation. I asked my kids, "What is support? How do you define it?" and many of them did not have an answer. They were, however, quick to use it in a sentence when I asked how do we play high notes. This tells me that they understand that support is necessary and vital for playing, but if they are unable to fully understand it then how can they effectively apply it?
Breathing - Every morning before our first block we start with about 10 minutes of breathing exercises. All the students are given breathing tubes to assist with opening the throat. During this time, I took the opportunity to have them understand what it feels like to take a shallow breath and a full breath. I also covered how to take a full breath and we were able to apply this in sectionals when I could tell their breathing became more shallow.
Intonation - One of my main goals every year is to get my flutes to play in tune. Intonation can be a really difficult concept for young players, especially those who only play in band, to grasp. At the beginning of every sectional, we tuned to a B-flat. I would play a middle B-flat and ask everyone to join in. If they were unsure if they were sharp or flat, I told them to adjust one way and if it got worse then adjust the other way. We talked about tuning with a good sound and not overpowering our neighbors. After we were in tune, we spent time tuning a major and minor chord so they were familiar with where the 3rd and 5th need to land. Intonation was something we revisited many times throughout the rehearsals especially when we began to rehearse the actual music. We discussed the intonation tendencies of certain notes on the flute as well as how to achieve an effective taper of our phrase endings to ensure they don't go flat.
I was blown away by the ability and the receptiveness of the students. Not only that, but many of the kids asked fantastic questions throughout the week that prompted more in depth discussions. These kids work hard and it's clear that their hard work is going to continue for the rest of the season.
Now back in Greensboro, I am happy to be able to sleep in my own bed. I am extremely fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to travel and take part in so many great events over the past three weeks. As I sit here on my couch writing this (I think I have a cold?!), I feel inspired, refreshed, and motivated. There's a lot to do, but I'm looking forward to figuring out this next chapter of my life.