The Importance of Rest as a Musician
Being in college as an undergraduate or a graduate student is a lot more difficult than people like to think it is. Especially in the school of music, where what we do as musicians isn’t necessarily always physically taxing. But, music takes a lot of skill, effort, time, and mental focus to do well, and that can take a toll on your mental health.
If you peek at your class syllabi, you might find a sentence or two on excused absences. This is something that can be easily overlooked, but is so important to see what your specific professor’s policies are. Sometimes professors allot a couple days for unexcused absences, while others expect an email beforehand if you know you’ll miss class. Whatever the case may be, use these to your advantage! You won’t be able to be fully present in your classes if you need to rest, whether that be physically or mentally.
Again, college is hard! It can be stressful, especially when you factor in your personal life, your social life, romantic relationships, etc. If you feel that you need time to rest, take the time to rest. Something my violin professor Dr. Koo said in a studio class recently is this; “resting is more important than practicing”, and that is so true! How many times have you gotten into the practice room, opened your instrument case, and realized you are having a hard time focusing because you are exhausted? I’ve had my fair share of those days, and it really does make a difference to rest instead of forcing yourself to practice in those instances. I am a huge proponent of napping (much to my parent’s chagrin), but also rest is super important because during the school year you are playing your instrument a lot. Various ensembles, your lesson materials, auditions, among many other obligations take up a lot of your time and can take a toll on your body if you are not careful. I’ve seen violin performance majors have to switch their major by the end of their degree program because they sustained an injury from playing too much, or pushing through pain. Especially if you feel any pain while playing, stop and make sure to discuss it in your next lesson!
Rest is productive, and it is necessary as musicians to make sure we are being kind to our minds and our bodies. Bottom line; if you need to rest, rest!
Exploring New Territory
As this is my last semester, I wanted to use my time wisely. I wanted to explore different ways I can apply my artistic ideas to other forms of art. I have always found myself in the world of music and then high school happened and I started to open up the world of theater. Coming here, that was further amplified. Even when those two worlds collided, I wanted to perform, I didn’t wanna do anything else. However, I have always had a keen interest in directing and actually creating a work from an idea, to a vision, to the real thing. So, I finally decided to do something about it and register for a film production class.
Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I struggled a lot with fitting in. The only Black people I saw regularly were my family, and even they didn’t have a similar taste of music to me. My sister loved pop music, my parents loved old school R&B, House music, and Soul music, and I loved classic rock. I didn’t even fit in with my other peers at school or my friends, and it didn’t bother me until recently. Thinking back on it, there were so many times I’d want to share my interests, only to be ignored or shot down by others. There were also times where I’d just listen to music my friends liked to keep the peace instead of voicing my needs and wants. It even got to a point where I noticed I was starting to listen to artists who I thought my friends would like, instead of music I genuinely liked. And even when I tried to show them music they’d like, they still shot me down.
I even have unique musical tastes in classical music, so I found it hard to connect with my peers in orchestra during my undergraduate studies. I love baroque, renaissance and classical music mainly, while my peers loved romantic music.
I recognize now that I need to find and be around people who appreciate my interests, so I typically perform in whatever baroque ensemble is offered at school (I’m currently in Concerto Urbano and it’s fabulous). It makes such a difference to be around like minded people. My best friend has similar music interests to me, and I always feel comfortable showing him the music I like. It made me realize how a good friend should be. Being in the Hip Hop Collective also made me realize that I can trust my instincts as a composer as well!
To anyone who feels their music tastes are too weird, trust me, they’re not! It can be hard to find people who appreciate your interests (especially as a BIPOC musician) but once you do, you won’t feel like you have to hide the best parts of yourself to get people to like you. Please keep making music and sharing your interests with people!
Leaving Hustle Culture Behind
Over this past winter break, I really struggled with having nothing to do.
For the weeks leading up to it, I was spending almost every second I could finishing projects and studying for finals. Then, it all just stopped.
I spent most of my days rereading old books, playing games on my phone, or watching tons of movies back-to-back. And every day that I did this I told myself “you’ll start doing stuff tomorrow.”
I had plans to go to the gym, to start writing essays for new scholarships, and to go to the store. But every day I felt so exhausted I couldn’t convince myself to leave the house.
It was hard for me to accept that staying on the couch was probably best for me. College kept me on a routine, and every day that I worked made me feel productive. But the work piled on quickly and felt overwhelming, and I never gave myself a second to rest.
By the time winter break came, I was completely drained.
It all came from this assumption that work is the only form of productivity. When I have a long day of classes or spend hours in the library until most of my class work is done, I feel like I couldn’t have spent the day any better.
Yet when I accomplish the same amount of class work while waking up at noon, I perceive the day as already being over, if not “ruined.”
I attribute much of this attitude towards the hustle culture promoted on social media, where people romanticize their 9-5s, business trips, and all-nighters of studying, and they never forget to include the dozen chores they completed in the same day.
This lifestyle balance is no doubt impressive, but it pushes the narrative that work is the only way to have a well-spent day, and it fails to account for the times that the workload is too much. After 5, 6, or 7 days of constant work, your body needs a break.
With hustle culture, spending a day hardly leaving your bed is seen as a day wasted. But pushing past that expectation allows you to see it as a chance to rest. You can feel pride knowing that, even when you are so drained from work that you can hardly get out of bed, you still took the time to make lunch or shower or take care of yourself somehow. That can still be a day well spent.
Letting your mind and body decompress and relax for a day can be as beneficial to you as working through your assignments. That time to refocus can even help you work with a better head on your shoulders.
College provides an incredible community of passion for education, with hundreds of resources for new information. It is a hub for anything you would ever want to know, and I absolutely love it. But when school becomes all work with no time to breathe, it can feel overwhelming.
Scheduling even an hour or two into your day or week to do something fun or close yourself off from the world can make college that much more manageable and enjoyable. Treat those moments of nothingness or “wasted time” as moments of self-care, to breathe and recenter away from all the work coming in.
My undergraduate years were a very difficult time for me. The transition from high school to college is already a difficult one; you have to learn how to live on your own, how you fare in social situations, what your boundaries are, and on top of that, go to your classes and do well in them. College is not just about what grades you get; it’s a full experience on its own with a lot of personal components to it. I struggled with making friends at my last institution, and the pandemic made it a lot worse to deal with. Over this past winter break, I was doing a lot of introspection, and I realized that I’m still feeling the effects of those hardships today. I wasn’t able to start the healing process during my four years as an undergraduate student because I was still experiencing those hardships every day. Now that I’m away from that environment, I’m able to fully process what happened to me.
One goal I have for my time here in graduate school is to go for as many opportunities as I can to grow into the person I’d like to be. This semester, I’m taking voice lessons for the first time and I joined the Hip Hop Collective (HHC). Social situations are tough for me; I’ve been in many situations where I was not valued for who I was, and I stutter, so talking to new people is always stressful for me. And even though the first meeting of HHC was very scary for me, there is a lot I’d like to learn from being in that group. There’s opportunities for learning how to edit videos, collaborate with other musicians, learn how to mix and master music, etc. I want to learn all of these skills, but it can be hard to stay present in large groups of people.
My only advice to anyone experiencing a similar struggle is to go for your goals despite the fears you may have. It will be hard; it may be way outside of your comfort zone, but do it anyway! You never know what will happen; it might be a great experience. And if it happens to be something you don’t enjoy, that’s okay too; you learned what you are comfortable with, and you can move on knowing a little more about yourself.
This semester was my first audition for concert ensembles at UIUC, and it was terrifying.
Mostly, I was worried because I hadn’t performed a live audition since before the pandemic began. I was definitely rusty.
I began my warm-ups in the music building practice rooms. I thought it would be nice to give myself a good, private warm-up to calm the nerves and prepare, since I wasn’t sure what the warm-up room situation was inside of Krannert Center.
After about half an hour of scales and slurs with a shaky tone, I made my way towards the audition room.
Despite the semester of experience on campus that I already had, I was extremely unfamiliar with Krannert’s layout.
I was hoping as I walked in the door to find a check-in table immediately inside with plenty of people to point me the right way, but I was only greeted with a sign telling me to find the check-in table at production level.
From my time inside Krannert, I had never once come across a production level, let alone a staircase. I’d only ever been in the lobby. So I set out on my hurried wandering, following anyone who looked like they might be heading towards a staircase.
After several minutes, I had made no progress, so I resorted to asking anyone in sight. I approached the only person nearby, asking her if she could point me to the stairs, to which she apologetically replied, “I don’t work here.”
And I was left on my own again.
My search of the building grew ever more frantic as minutes passed. I found one staircase, finally, but it was blocked off for construction. It did, however, soon lead me to find the next staircase with a sign pointing to production level.
I had exactly 10 minutes before I was expected to be performing on stage, so I rushed to the check-in table, filled out my form, and remembered to ask directions to the next room.
By the time I had made my way to the warm-up room, I had three minutes to make it to the stage. I whipped out my trumpet and continued my warm-up for approximately two seconds before I tuned and prepared to leave.
On my way out, I overheard two other players in the room discussing the final cuts to the excerpts, which I didn’t have. So I ran over to them, asking for the quickest run-down of final cuts, then proceeded to run out of the room toward the stage.
I peeked around the corner to make sure I was in the right place, only to end up scaring the backstage proctor by showing up almost out of nowhere.
She came around quickly after my accidental jumpscare, and proceeded to calmly show me the music and explain the procedure; she would walk me on stage, announce my number, I would sit and play the excerpts in order at my own pace, they would thank me and I would leave. And it was all a blind audition.
The final performance was much less terrifying than I had been working up in my head. And even though I absolutely botched the first note I played, I survived the rest and the pieces came out pretty well.
If I can share any piece of advice from this audition experience, it is that you should trust the process and give yourself enough time to look around and find where you need to be. Hopefully, that should take a lot of unnecessary out of your day.
Preparing for My Capstone
As a music open studies major, there are a lot of requirements I have to fulfill to graduate, but out of all of them, this one has to be my favorite, yet the most stressful: The Capstone. For those who don’t know what a capstone is or haven’t even heard of it, a capstone is basically a senior project showcasing something you are passionate about and have worked on, kinda like a senior thesis. I have been fortunate enough to have worked in and on a capstone, but that’s high school and now we’re on the college level so everything is different. Not really. What I have been finding so far while working through this process is that it’s much more fun and liberating than my time in high school.
Learning Multiple Instruments
You’ve probably heard the saying “jack of all trades, master of none”. What that means is that if you learn a lot of things, such as learning a lot of instruments, you won’t really be a master of any of them. I used to believe in this quote, thinking that if I learned more than one instrument that I wouldn’t be good at any of them. Today, I don’t believe in that quote anymore because I found that if you have a main instrument that you’re working hard towards improving on, and then you add another instrument on top of that, you can actually learn a lot of skills and techniques that you wouldn’t necessarily see that often on your main instrument.
For example, I started on violin, and then I added flute a couple years later. When I would read the music in orchestra, my teacher was primarily giving us pieces that had sharps in the key signature. If you start on a stringed instrument, you typically start with the sharp keys; starting with G major, D, major, A major, etc. It wasn’t until about four or five years into playing violin that I was starting to see flats in the music in orchestra, even just as accidentals. For the other students in my orchestra class, that was their first experience reading flats. For me, because I had been learning the flute for a number of years before that point, I not only knew what flats were and how they worked in music, I already knew multiple key signatures that have flats in them. This helped me immensely because I already knew what to expect from the music.
If you have the opportunity of learning an additional instrument, it can be a really fun experience. You get to learn different styles of classical music, you might get to know music from different regions of the world (for example, a lot of flute music is written by French composers and so I learned a lot of French music), you might even see symbols and different things in the sheet music that you’ve never seen before. (In flute music, there’s a lot of turns which just look like a little infinity signs on top of the staff. In violin music, you rarely see turns). It's also helpful to learn another instrument if you compose music as well because then you can understand the limitations of the instruments that you’re learning so that you can write more performer friendly music.
If you are interested in learning another instrument, there’s opportunities here at UIUC with the community music lessons program. This can be a really valuable and fun way to play music that you’ve never experienced before!
Personalizing Your Classes
As music majors, we all have to take classes that are required for our degree. Usually you just have to deal with it and take the classes and sometimes you have to take classes that you don’t really like. I remember in my undergrad, I had to take atonal music theory classes for my degree and I did not enjoy them one bit. I don’t think my professor taught the class very well and eight on music to me just doesn’t really sound that great (but I am challenging myself to find a total music that I actually do like). Usually you also have to do some sort of a final project in his classes whether it’s writing a paper or possibly composing a piece. My advice to you if you’re currently taking a class that you do not like that much is to try and personalize your classes. What I mean by this is, if you have the authority to pick your paper topic, or if you are writing a piece of music as your final project, really try to make it your own, and to make it something that you enjoy. Something that has helped me a lot he’s making sure that my paper topics are stuff that I really am interested in so that the whole process becomes a lot less daunting. Especially when you have to do research for your papers, you’re not gonna want to do it if it’s a topic that you’re not interested in I’ve learned recently that I love to do because if it’s something that I am interested in, I’m more likely to want to read my sources and to read them deeply.
Another thing that you can do to personalize your class is to just simply take classes that still count for your degree but interest you. At UIUC I really appreciate the diversity of music classes that they offer here. I’m taking a class this semester that is all about music in the 1980s, which is my favorite type of music!! And reading the course description it’s not only classical music written in the 1980s, it’s popular music in America that was written in the 1980s so we’re talking RUN-DMC, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, etc. I am so excited for this class that I already have paper topics lined up for when I know we’ll have to do a final paper at the end of the semester.
Things like this can really help you to enjoy your classes and to stay interested in studying and in participating. Being a music major is already pretty difficult, but doesn’t have to be the most grueling experience.
So you Had a Bad Studio Performance…
You’ve been practicing all week for this performance. The time comes for you to walk up on the stage, and you start to get nervous. You begin your piece, and the nerves don’t go away. You know that you’re making mistakes and you know that the audience can hear them, and it just makes the whole situation worse. By the time you finish and your studio mates applaud you, you’re feeling pretty down.
As a graduate student, I have had my fair share of these types of studio experiences, and, of course, it’s not fun. Sometimes there’s nothing you can really do but just push through the nerves and finish your performance. That is what your studio class is there for; to practice your performance skills. I know that studio class can be pretty daunting, but I encourage you to think about these things when you have to perform in your studio classes in the future:
1. Your professor and your studio mates are all there to help you... which sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to forget. Everyone in your studio class knows what it’s like to have to perform in front of you and your peers. Everyone gets nervous, even if they don’t look like it on the stage. Even your professors get nervous from time to time. It’s something that we all have to deal with and work on, so don’t be so hard on yourself if your nerves get to you.
2. You don’t have to give perfect performances in studio class. A lot of students are using studio class as a way to prepare for their performances, whether it’s a studio recital, a solo recital, an audition, etc. So, while everyone should prepare their piece well, it doesn’t have to be perfect. If it was perfect, then you wouldn’t need to play it in studio class. Everyone has the capacity to improve, even the students in your studio class that you think play well every single time.
3. Not only do your studio mates and your professor want to help you in studio class, they see a lot of good qualities in your performances. If you’ve just performed and you don’t think that you did very well, you’re going to be hung up on all of your mistakes that you just made. But, you don’t really know what your studio mates are thinking. Oftentimes in my studio class, my studio mates always give some sort of a compliment when they’re giving comments and it’s so nice to hear that because you might not have noticed something that went well in your performance.
As nerve-wracking as it can be, studio class is a helpful class, and your studio mates and your professor want to see you succeed.
Playing Historical Keyboard Instruments
Fall 2022 was a busy but fruitful semester. In addition to the modern piano that I routinely practice, I was delighted to have the chance to play different keyboard instruments that are rarely seen. These instruments each have distinctive qualities regarding touch, timbre, etc., and I found this experience extremely impressive.
I took the keyboard literature class this semester, in which I studied early keyboard repertoires and composers from the Medieval to Classical periods, and —most memorably—played early keyboard compositions on historical instruments. There were two class performances throughout the semester: the first featured the harpsichord and consisted entirely of J. S. Bach’s works; the second featured the fortepiano and showcased exclusively classical compositions.
As for the harpsichord, even though I played and had taken lessons before, I still felt a little rusty since it had been more than one year ago. The harpsichord’s keys are relatively short, narrow, and light, so playing with the muscles trained for modern pianos frequently resulted in my fingers being unintentionally stuck on other notes. It also took me some time to get used to the keys’ black and white colors, which are the opposite of those on modern pianos, and the slight resistance I felt when pressing the keys since it produces sounds by plucking strings. Moreover, there are differences in how to deal with music, particularly Baroque compositions, such as some indescribable musical expressions or ornament execution, which often sound better and more charming on the harpsichord than on contemporary pianos.
This was my first time playing the fortepiano. Its keys are to some extent similar to those of the harpsichord, and its register is only about five octaves (it’s a Stein model). Since it has fewer octaves, when performing classical music, several notes that seem commonplace on modern pianos are actually almost at the highest or lowest of the instrument! Another unique fact is that its “pedal” is a “knee pedal” rather than a foot pedal. It is situated just beneath the keyboard, and the sustain effect is activated by pushing it up with the knee. How interesting! Overall, it has a gentler sound and truly emits a graceful “classical elegance.”
In addition to these two historical instruments, I served as the celesta player in the UI Symphony Orchestra’s public performance at the end of October. Unlike the relatively new Yamaha celesta in the Harding Band Building that I played in the wind orchestra last academic year, this time was the Simone Celeste owned by Krannert Center. This instrument only has one sustaining pedal, and at first glance, it looks like a mottled huge old black box with worn-out fabric on the upper panel. I looked into the history of this specific brand “Simone” and learned that it had ceased production, making this instrument really an “antique”! Although the celesta section in the concert repertoires was not very demanding, because of its rather delicate timbre, I paid closer attention to the projection (especially the solo passage in Ravel’s Tzigane) to ensure a clear and “heavenly” sound was created.
Playing three different historical keyboard instruments in one semester was a terrific experience, despite not having much time to devote to each one. I hope to further explore more instruments in the future to have a greater understanding of how various musical genres are performed and interpreted.
Chin-Hsuan Sharon Cheng (written in Dec. 2022)
除了這兩個古樂器，我還在管弦樂團10月底的公演演奏鋼片琴。不同於上學年我在管樂團彈過的Harding Band Building裡比較新的Yamaha鋼片琴，這次的樂器則是Krannert Center的Simone鋼片琴。這台琴只有一個延音功能的踏板，整個像是一個古老的黑色大箱子，上面有斑駁的紋路，音箱的布也有點破損，一看就很有歲月的痕跡。我稍微查了一下它的來歷，說是此牌鋼片琴已經停產了，所以這台果真是個「古董」！雖然公演的曲目中鋼片琴的份量不多，但因為這台鋼片琴本身的音色較為小聲輕柔，所以任何彈的時候（尤其拉威爾Tzigane中間的solo）我都很注意聲音的傳播投射，以確保有傳達出最清亮、「天堂般」的聲音。
Chin-Hsuan Sharon Cheng (2022年12月)
Working at Krannert Art Museum
I’ve been working at the Krannert Art Museum for one semester, and I love my job. When I tell people I’m a security guard, they don’t believe me at first (even my own parents thought this job was strange)! But it’s true; my job is to greet visitors and make sure the art is safe. If you’ve never been to the Krannert Art Museum before, here’s a few things you should know:
First of all, Krannert Art Museum is not the same as the Krannert Center of Performing Arts. People have walked into my job thinking it was the performance center before, but it’s an understandable mistake. The two buildings are named after the same people (Herman and Ellnora Krannert) after all. The Krannert Center is for music, dance and theater performances, and the Art Museum is, of course, for art!
Secondly, the museum has changing exhibits throughout the semester, so it’s best to visit regularly if possible. I’d probably say plan to visit the museum once a month at the least if you want to see everything the museum has to offer! They have all kinds of art, from Ancient Egypt to decorative art pieces made in the 21st century. The gallery is quite diverse as well; they have art from many different backgrounds and from many types of artists.
Third, the museum has a ton of free events going on throughout the semester as well. One of my favorites has to be the Speak Cafe that happens once a month on Thursday nights. ‘Speak’ is actually an acronym that stands for “Song, Poetry, Expression, Art, and Knowledge”. It’s an open mic night where people sing, perform spoken word pieces, or perform monologues for an audience. Every night I was working in the museum, I hoped I was near the cafe so I could hear the performances. It’s a lot of fun!
All in all, this is my favorite job I’ve had in my life. Art museums are my happy place; I remember visiting the one on my last campus frequently, and now I get to be in the Krannert Art Museum multiple times a week. My coworkers and the other staff members are really friendly. If you have free time during the semester, the Krannert Art Museum is a great place to be!
MUS 101, the first music theory course taken as a Music major, is divided into two sections: music technology and music literacy. The class has two discussion sections each week, all of which are devoted to music literacy topics. It also has three lecture days each week, two of which cover music technology topics, while the other covers music literacy.
Each class was a surprise, as our professor would bring in various instruments– some more strange than others– and we would observe as she put together recordings, edited to all play out of one side of the room, or all sound really quiet, or anything else you can think of.
We would watch students volunteer to stand in front of the class and sing their hearts as our professor moved their microphone around their head and across the room.
Some days, each student would get to log onto an online keyboard connected to the professor’s device and interrupt class with short songs or riffs they come up with on the spot.
Our assignments were just as interesting.
For one assignment this semester, I spent my time in the practice room, recording as I slapped random keys on the piano in sync with the rhythm my professor composed, just to show that I knew how to record and follow a rhythm.
Though it wasn’t always fun to wake up for a daily 9 a.m. class, I was never disappointed with entertainment.
And MUS 107, the first-year musicianship course, came with its own surprises as well.
Most classes began with the entire lecture room harmonizing under the direction of our professor. We would create chord progressions and resolve melodies, all by tuning into each other and following the solfege given by the professor.
One day, we even spent the lecture playing a game of jeopardy to review for our exams. We gathered into teams with the people around us, and at each turn, everyone hopped on the opportunity to perform and get the most points for their team, even if that meant singing a solo or duet for the class.
First-year music classes are definitely not the calmest ways to begin each morning, but they sure do wake you up, and they provide plenty of entertainment.
Electric Strings and Me
Before coming to UIUC, I had no idea about the electric strings program here (which is funny now, considering my best friend is an electric violin student here). I only knew about electric violin beforehand when Mark Wood performed in my school district when I was 12. We were in a rehearsal once and he asked me to play with him on stage because I had a great bow arm… it was the coolest experience ever and I had him sign my ½ size violin.
But I forgot about that until recently. I’ve been to a couple electric strings performances and masterclasses this semester and it has been a huge source of inspiration for me. It’s been so inspiring that I plan on getting myself an electric violin and taking lessons next semester!
I really love what Dr. Haken is doing with his students. There seems to be a focus on rock music (which I absolutely love), but also works specifically for electric violin. I currently take a class with Dr. Haken and I’ve learned that he is really open to whatever his students want to do. One person at the electric strings studio recital played a piece from a video game which was amazing!
I recently got back into songwriting after a long break and showed him a tune I’d want to perform on electric violin. I was nervous he might not think it was a worthwhile endeavor but he seems very excited about my ideas. I even want to show him more of the songs I’ve written next semester. A lot of these songs are many years old, and I think now is finally the time I can present them well. Keep an eye out because you just might see me performing my own compositions in a concert very soon!
During my undergraduate years, I was often too stressed or dealing with mental health issues to take full advantage of the events going on around me. I tried joining clubs, but they weren’t that welcoming. I always felt like an outsider. It wasn’t until my senior year that I started going to concerts that I wanted to go to. I went to faculty recitals, I saw Gil Shaham perform the works of Bach, and I got to hear Kelly Hall-Tompkins perform Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto which was really special for me. I even saw some of my peers' recitals and that was really fun, too.
This semester, it’s almost difficult to pick and choose what to attend because there’s so much going on every week! I really appreciate the weekly music events email that goes out because I am quite forgetful. So far I’ve gone to the David Rosenboom Residency concert in October, an electric strings DMA recital, one Illini Strings concert, two electric strings masterclasses, the electric strings studio recital and an artist diploma student recital. I also got to see the Chicago Symphony perform in Krannert Center for Performing Arts which was incredible!
I’m constantly amazed at how many opportunities there are not only to see others perform but to participate in things as a musician. For example, I’m currently in Dr. Koo’s studio and I’m working on a composer collaboration where we get to learn a piece written by a composer and record it. This is just a great learning experience because I’ve never done anything like this before. I wish my previous school had stuff like this to do with their students!
And, in February, I’m performing in a faculty-student side by side performance of ALL of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. That is literally a dream of mine to play the Brandenburg Concertos at such a high level! All in all, I’m learning so much from attending these performances, seeing performers of all levels play vastly different kinds of music. It’s so inspiring for me and I can’t wait to see what next semester has to offer!
So you Had a Bad Lesson…
It’s the day of your lesson. You get into your professor’s room, you start to play through your difficult repertoire, and it all goes out the window. For some reason, even though you practiced all week, it’s not showing in your lesson.
I know how soul-crushing this can be. As a graduate student, I’ve had my fair share of “bad” lessons in the 14 years I’ve been playing violin. Here is my advice to anyone going through something like this:
First, let yourself feel whatever you feel. If you need to cry it out, then do it! If you need a break from the practice rooms, take the break. Try not to beat yourself up. As musicians, I think we forget that music and performing is hard. It’s a lot of intellectual work; figuring out minute changes in our posture to improve our performance, trying to deduce what fingering or bowing works where and why, and listening to recordings of yourself playing to analyze what worked and what didn’t... It takes a lot of time, effort and energy to be a musician.
Second, decide whether you want to involve your professor or not. It is totally up to you whether you want to talk about this with your professor, but I always recommend being open about things like this because at the end of the day, your professor is there to help you out. We are musicians, but we are also human; we can’t be motivated 24/7 to practice and get everything done.
Third, make a plan for the next lesson. What made it a ‘bad’ lesson? Did you not feel prepared for it? Is the music you are learning overwhelming you? Are you sick and not feeling well? Once you can pinpoint exactly what went wrong, you can make sure the next lesson goes well.
I spent way too much of my undergraduate years being afraid of my violin professor and my lessons. It took me two years into my undergraduate studies to realize that my professors are there to help me improve my technique, and not to make me feel bad if I make a mistake in the lesson. And once I realized this, I improved much faster because I was no longer stressed at every lesson.
It can be difficult to find motivation to practice, especially when the only available practice space is a ten minute walk through whatever horrible weather may be plaguing the outdoors, to then make your way up a few floors of the music building to the practice rooms.
This semester, I’ve been trying to streamline my practice time, especially when it comes to orchestra music. Being in an ensemble is required for most music majors, and it can really take up a lot of your time, even outside of rehearsals.
Tips for Self-recording
Performers will need to record their performances at some point in their lives. A good video can be a precious archive of one’s music career or be submitted for an audition, etc. Although many recording studios or engineers can help with recording, self-recording is a good way to save money and time. In this blog I will share a few tips I discovered while self-recording.
This semester, I’ve been trying to streamline my practice time, especially when it comes to orchestra music. Being in an ensemble is required for most music majors, and it can really take up a lot of your time, even outside of rehearsals.
Finding Confidence in Music
I auditioned for the Marching Illini because I marched in high school and all my friends told me to audition in college. After a few months at Illinois, I auditioned for the Basketball Band because the friends I made in Marching Illini encouraged me to, saying how much fun they had when they did it.
Working As An Election Judge
Coming to college and with recent issues, I started to realize how important it is to take part in the election process. In my sophomore year, I started working as an election judge and it was the first election I was able to vote for. It’s a long and tedious training process, but it’s an honor and privilege to be a part of the process. It’s a long day on election day when you have to wake up and get to the polls at 5 am to stay until around 8 pm to close up. It was very slow at first, as it was a day off of classes so everyone was sleeping in. Around lunchtime, we got a message from the county clerk's office to expect it to be busy and of course, the line started. A huge group of people just appeared and a line formed down the hallway.
Keeping A Practice Log
Before this semester, I was never someone who scheduled my practice time. Sure, I knew what blocks of time I had to practice on any given day, but I didn’t have a plan on what I was doing exactly. I’m also a person that can start a habit no problem, but never keep them up. But once I switched to an iPad for my sheet music and for taking notes in class, I started to use Goodnotes to my advantage.
Working Out as a Musician: Is It Important?
Before I entered my undergraduate studies, I wasn’t the most active person out there. Gym class was my least favorite class I had to take growing up. Something about the competitiveness of sports was always unappealing to me (truthfully, it still deters me from playing sports today). When I began my undergraduate studies at UW-Madison, I started to take advantage of the gyms on campus, but I wasn’t consistent with it. This semester, however, I really wanted to take charge of my health, so with the help of a great friend I’ve been consistently going to the gym for over a month now.
In the previous blog, I mentioned that I basically stayed in the Champaign-Urbana area during the summer break and shared some fun activities I did here. This blog will continue to share the music-related activities I participated in during the summer.