Time flies. I can’t believe I’ve done the first year of my master’s study. During this year, I took tens of thousands of photos and videos to record every precious moment, and to share what I saw and heard with my family and friends. Looking back to this academic year, no matter in music or life, I take everything seriously and have grown a lot.
In the previous article, I wrote about two important skills; in this blog, I will continue to talk about the two other essential skills for a graduate music student.
Since I came here to study, every week I have had a full schedule of coursework plus practicing and performances, which from time to time make me feel overwhelmingly tired. I often reflect on my daily routine and effectiveness and try to think of more ways to increase productivity. So far, in addition to the clichéd “time management,” I have discovered four must-have skills that are essential for improving efficiency.
As the summer is soon approaching, I have been in the very long process of applying for internships and auditioning for something to do this summer. I applied to a plentiful number of theaters at the beginning of the year. Four months later, little theaters came back with updates, and most were not yet ready. It’s been difficult to wait. I am a very eager person and that has its positives, but also negatives. It’s painful when the nagging thought of waiting is always in the back of my head, but it’s so exciting to think of the possibilities.
As you may know from my previous posts, I am a dual degree student. I study music and creative writing, and I love what I do. In a lot of ways, I feel fortunate to experience my education and, to some extent, the world, as both writer and musician. But when it came to preparing for graduate school, I had to make some difficult choices. Academically speaking, it is not really possible to be a graduate student in multiple degree programs. Or at least, I’ve never seen such a thing outside of the MD-PHD track, which is not my field!
In my previous blog, I introduced some places I often go to in my free time, and in this post, I will continue to share some other nice places. They are not too far away from campus and are worth visiting
Being in the Urbana-Champaign area for several months, I’m more and more used to the lifestyle here. While I spend most of my time in classes, practicing in Smith Memorial Hall, or in my apartment; I have found some wonderful places for relaxing in my free time.
During the break, I did some serious reflection on my time here at this university and the remaining time I have. There were many reasons why I wanted to transfer into Music Open Studies from Lyric Theater but there was also some hesitancy. As a current junior, I was worried that changing my major so late in the game would make me track back to the beginning, but after having the important discussion with the advisor, I realized how much I wanted and needed it.
Yesterday, I bumped into another flutist on my walk home from the English Building. I asked her how she was doing, and she said that she was okay, but nervous. She was nervous for her upcoming studio performance, and wrestling with performance nerves. She shared with me that she knew it was going to be fine, but that her doubts kept clouding her practice time and preparation. And as I listened, I was able to reflect on my own journey with performance nerves. But there are a few things I didn’t know that I wish I had, when I was going through this.
It is my pleasure to be a pianist in the wind orchestra. Not only do I have a chance to get to know many wind ensemble repertoires, but I gain more experience in playing the piano in a large ensemble. Through rehearsals, I have found some ways for a piano, a somewhat “isolated” instrument, to fit in the whole orchestra.
The week before last, I had one of the worst lessons I’ve ever had! It was my own fault, since I was completely unprepared. And not to say that under-preparedness hasn’t happened before, but I think I’ve just gotten away with it, or maybe it’s gone unnoticed. It has taken me a few weeks to re-adjust and realize I have to be practicing as if for a performance in order to be fully prepared for lessons. This realization isn’t that profound, but I want to write it out so we can see it in words.
To have a good lesson, we have to practice as if we are preparing for a performance.
Maybe it’s because I’m a senior, which means the real world is looming large in my path. Or maybe it’s because I work at the music library, which means I watch musicians interact with music in a nontraditional way every day, but something about options has me excited! Options that go beyond the practice room. Options that turn from casual opportunities to real-life jobs. There are endless combinations of them. Don’t take my word for it. Just sign up for “Ensemble Entrepreneurship” and you’ll see what I mean. The ways we as vastly complicated individuals, with interests that span as diversely as Pokemon and catalytic converters, can interface with music are endless.
After a busy half of the semester, it was finally spring break! It's rare to have days off in a semester with an intense schedule of classes, rehearsals, and performances, and also, I haven't been to any other city after coming to Urbana-Champaign to study; therefore, I decided to go out of town for spring break. Since spring break only lasted one week and the semester was not over yet, I planned to take a day trip to Chicago, which was not far away and was accessible by convenient transportation.
During the February wind orchestra concert, besides playing the piano, I also played two other instruments, the celesta and the whirly tube. I have touched the celesta before and know what it sounds like, so I am somewhat familiar with it. As for the whirly, it was my first time getting to know this instrument. When rotating it, the tube can produce a sound like the wind. Overall, I played three instruments in this concert; it was such a special experience.
I have an extensive background in cello, so when I decided to switch my primary instrument to voice the adjustment was weird, to say the least. I am a junior and I am still adjusting to it, which is fine as I had 9 years of cello education. Learning the proper technique for healthy singing has been a long journey and not a very simple one. I was used to physically playing an instrument, another being, but now I am that being.
When I first found out I had been accepted into UIUC’s voice program, I spent weeks obsessively thinking about dorm living. Which residence hall should I pick? Should I loft my bed? Which residence hall has the best food? The questions came flying and as the eldest child and the first in my family to go out of town for college, I really didn’t know where to start. That whole experience feels so long ago. Right now, I’m nearing my 21st birthday. I’ve left the residence halls and now I have an apartment, living with the same roommate I had during my freshman year. Having an apartment is wonderful, but I loved my life in University Housing, and I would love to offer advice on dorm-life from a music major’s perspective.
Even the most seasoned of practitioners need to refresh themselves on how to practice, and that includes something as simple as how to divide up your time. In my last post, I discussed the importance of adopting the mindset that we have all the time in the world when we are in the practice room (even though we don’t!). But for more methodical thinkers, there are some ways to make our time feel more manageable.
I’ve finally gotten a grip on how to practice! It’s been four years, and with changing productivity rates due to a Covid world, being on and off campus, off and back on campus, having ensembles and then not having ensembles, there have not been very many dependent variables in my practice routine. Let’s face it, there haven’t been many dependent variables in anyone’s practice routine. But based on how difficult it sometimes is to operate within a changing environment, I can say that I have gleaned a lot more from this time than I originally expected I would. This post comes at a time when I believe (and I could be wrong) that we might be turning a corner back into normality, or at least an adjusted normality, whatever that looks like.
Time flies. My first semester and winter break here at UIUC have passed. It has been several months since I left home. Because I also studied alone in Taipei, Taiwan, a different city rather than in my hometown during my undergrad, it seemed that to some extent I was supposed to be accustomed to this lifestyle. However, I would go home at least once a month and would also return home during long vacations at that time, whereas I seldom had long travels after starting my new journey here in Champaign-Urbana. Living in a foreign country can sometimes inevitably make me feel lonely. To overcome this, in addition to video calls with family abroad or friends in other states, I also travel, cook, exercise, gather with friends, or participate in the school’s activities. Those activities have gradually made Illinois a "Home Away From Home."
During the height of the pandemic, I would often take walks around the Urbana neighborhoods to get some fresh air and see more of the outdoors. I used to always see dogs being walked around with their owners, and I realized how badly I wanted one. It was such a bright spot in my day to see the joy that dogs can bring to other people, and since I saw it so often, I desperately wanted that in my own life. I did my research and found my sweet Sailor a few months later. She and I have been together since her seven-week birthday, and her Goldendoodle energy has only gotten stronger in the last year. It’s wonderful to have a companion so loving, and during the stay at home period, she was such a great support system for me.
Winter and summer vacations are the breaks that students look forward to the most. Many people have already been travel hacking and planning their vacation travels before the break officially starts. Since mid-December, I saw many beautiful photos of my friends traveling when scrolling social media. But even so, I chose to stay in the Urbana-Champaign area, hoping to explore this area more deeply during the winter vacation.
Musicians spend a lot of time practicing their instruments every day. Although it is an indispensable daily routine, being sedentary and maintaining the same posture for a long time can bring about various body aches, or more seriously even irreversible pain and sequelae to the body. So far, I am glad that I have not experienced such troubles, perhaps because I have maintained the habit of exercising. Whenever I become tired after practicing piano or doing homework, I can always rejuvenate myself by exercising.
This is not something to fool around with! As a person with an autoimmune disorder that is directly affected by healthy (or unhealthy) eating, I can tell you that the energy you get from food does count. There was a time when I was drained, exhausted, unable to complete my work, and unable to focus in the practice room. This was in part due to family stress and managing hypothyroidism, but another cause was food health. Now, I’ve made a few tweaks and paid more attention recently, and it’s a whole new world. I can achieve twice as much on a healthy day than I can on a day when things are rushed and what I eat is a hodgepodge of junk. Exercise is great, too, but sometimes it’s not enough. I love to run, but no matter how much I do or don’t run, healthy eating always comes into play. It can be so hard, especially when you’re doing your own cooking, to make time for health. With crazy busy schedules, musicians often don’t find time to take care of themselves. But eating and cooking healthy can be for everyone, so this applies to musicians, too!
This semester I participated in chamber music class, and was assigned to play the piano in a violin sonata. Previously, I had also collaborated with other musicians for chamber music including piano trio, quintets, and accompanying singers; however, this was the first time I played an instrumental sonata. It was quite a novel challenge but I enjoyed it very much as well.
I just finished my work with my senior recital on Saturday, and it was a fun performance! I am trying to take some time to evaluate how it went, listen to a recording, and enjoy a few days off from practicing before I make any judgments about the quality of the performance. I’ll also ask my teacher for his feedback in my next lesson.