Due to the Coronavirus crisis, my in-person workshops have had to be suspended indefinitely. I am missing you all!
In the meantime, I have decided to do what I can to help you continue to educate your children at home. That's why I am providing free live-streamed musical workshops for children aged 4 - 7 (Key Stage 1) and 7 - 11 (Key Stage 2). Key Stage 1 workshops will focus on the development of fundamental musical skills such and listening, pitch and pulse. Key Stage 2 workshops will build on this, introducing the use of a basic instrument (ukulele) and continuing to develop awareness of pitch, pulse, rhythm, musical structure, how instruments work etc. My hope is that parents will also enjoy taking part in these workshops with their children and we can all learn together!
The times of the workshops are:
Key Stage 1: every Wednesday at 11am
Key Stage 2: every Friday at 11am
My personal philosophy is that music supports good mental health and emotional development, and so my aim is to help your child develop a healthy musical mind during this stressful time.
I am new to the world of live-streamed workshops, so in a way we'll be learning together - but this is the world we live in and music is vital! My goal is to reach 1000 subscribers on my YouTube channel so that I will be able to broadcast live to more people, but until then I will live-stream via this Facebook Group and my Facebook page.
I continue to teach clarinet and saxophone during this time (beginners to advanced), using Skype, WhatsApp or Zoom. Please do get in touch if you're interested in on-line lessons.
Please feel free to share this information with your friends! Thank you, and I look forward to connecting with you all on-line x
Well, I am definitely guilty of losing sight of the fun... Worse still during the last 11 years I've taken considerable time off for each of my children. At one point I even put the clarinet down quite deliberately with the intention of never playing again. I was worn out with some elements of the industry. In the end I missed playing too much though, and chose to get back on the horse. I didn't have a goal in mind, I just wanted to play. After a while I started to work again, but I promised myself I would try very hard to keep the spirit of the woman who had just wanted to play her clarinet.
My reason for doing #100daysofpractice is very simple. I want to. It is a good motivator for me. It's not because I want everyone to think I'm wonderful (let's face it, sharing practice videos is everyone's worst nightmare and it could well have the opposite effect!), but it is because I want to push myself and share the journey. Playing an instrument is wonderful, and the journey you make within yourself when you commit to self-improvement is amazing. Music is more than how you play, it's about what you share with other people WHEN you play. It's about how other people can relate to you through watching and listening. It is about being human - my goal in sharing is to be human.
Now, OF COURSE I play the clarinet so practice is already a part of my life, but I'm almost always practising FOR something... When I started this process on 01-01-2020 though, that was NOT the reason. I was actually on my holidays :)
So as week one draws to a close, here are a few initial thoughts:
The world of social media is scary. Heck the world of classical music is scary! It makes you feel inadequate and the loud personalities dominate, particularly (it seems) when it comes to the clarinet. Many people worry about being 'found out' though, even people who come across as confident. Self-doubt is actually far more common than you may realise*. We are not all such strong personalities, BUT there is a place for everyone. There is a place for me and there is a place for you, and so I invite you to join me on this journey... It is a journey of self-improvement, and it requires humility - but I do not think you will regret it. I'm only a week in and whilst I know I will have some tough days ahead, I am committed. I can't wait to see what the next 93 days have in store.
You can find me on Instagram at @_anneclarinet. My profile is set to private (because it's a personal profile) but you can request to follow me and I'd love to follow your #100daysofpractice in return.
*If you struggle with nerves, try this blog.
I believe in equality - so I believe that like the best sportsmen and women, musicians should understand their physiology in order to perform at their best.
Here's an example. Over the years I've found that I perform better when I'm slightly hungry. I concentrate better... I put this down to some evolutionary necessity which developed to give our hunter-gatherer ancestors an edge when they were hungry. It's just a theory but I stand by it! I build this awareness into my pre-concert planning.
Brace yourselves: women have menstrual cycles, and musicians with female bodies between the ages of (roughly) 12 - 50 perform during ALL phases of their menstrual cycle.
And pregnant. We even do it pregnant too...
So, as someone who has been managing these variations all my adult life, I have decided to share some of the things I've learned.
Brace yourselves ;)
The other day I was preparing for a concert and I was also getting my period. Deep joy.
The first day of my cycle generally sucks a bit.
Unanimous advice from my friends in the changing room: take the painkillers now and don't wait for it to get worse. Voices of experience.
Now I don't like to take many pills, but in some situations I'll make an exception and this was one of those situations. I needed to be able to concentrate for the gig, and pain can be distracting! I chose to take ibuprofen (in case you're wondering), because I've noticed that paracetamol can also dull my brain a little. Have you noticed this? Perhaps not, but it's a powerful drug and studies have shown that paracetamol does seem to affect the way the brain functions. So it's worth bearing in mind.
I've also noticed that there are times when I can find breath control more challenging. Often this is before a period when my progesterone levels are higher. Of course, there's a physiological reason for this too, oxygen consumption increases in the luteal phase of your cycle. Top athletes build this kind of awareness into their training regimes. Similarly if I notice this happening I can simply manage it & I have strategies for doing so! I quite like breathing as it happens, and I'm good at it ;) I also noticed similar challenges when I was pregnant.
Now it's possible that some of you are thinking to yourselves:
'See, THIS is why women aren't up to the job'... Well, sorry boys, I've got news for you!
Whilst these changes may make some aspects of performing a little more challenging for women, it turns out that our bodies are well up to the challenges :) It is possible that many people are totally unfazed by these subtle changes too, everyone is different. What's important is that (if necessary), we can learn to manage these things, but we don't do that by pretending they don't exist!
Studies on top athletes have concluded 'that, while a woman’s body will change during her monthly cycle, her performance is unlikely to be significantly enhanced or weakened.'
Lower testosterone levels are also associated with enhanced cognitive empathy - something which lies at the heart of our art-form. Empathy may enable us to better connect with, and respond to, our colleagues and our audience.
'Females on average outperform males in this cognitive empathy, and the male sex hormone testosterone is thought to be involved. '
'A high testosterone, low cortisol profile has been linked with competitiveness and aggressive behaviour. This profile has also been associated with psychopathy, a mental condition defined by anti-sociality, egotism, and impaired empathy.'
Let's hear it for those empathetic beta-males eh?
Recognising how our unique bodies work and learning to navigate the changes this may present is not something we should avoid discussing in my view.
I believe it can only enhance our profession and deepen our understanding of how we do what we do.
Do you have anything to add? I'd be interested to hear from you!
Thanks for reading.
(PS. I have found that using a period-tracking app on my phone has really helped me to look after myself and work out when I need to be particularly mindful!)
Human beings are creatures of habit. Over the course of my life I have somehow found myself working out a method for handling reeds which is basically a combination of trial and error and great tips from other clarinettists.
This blog is not a 'how to' - it's just a description of what I do. Everyone has their own 'rituals' and I'd love to hear what yours entail!
No matter how good the brand, reeds are not entirely reliable straight out of the box - if you play on them too much to begin with they can change a huge amount. They can start out great and then five minutes later they've turned to tissue paper! I find that running them in gently like this gives them greater stability/ reliability and can help them play better for longer.
We all know that a happy reed = a happy clarinettist! So for whatever it's worth, here's
I'll venture further down the reed-rabbithole in future blogs. Meantime, I hope this has been helpful! Let me know how you get on, and please add any tips of your own in comments :) I'd love to hear from you!
('footer' - colloquial term meaning to fiddle/ mess about/ tinker with etc)
I realise that I'm probably a little late to the party with this one, but thought it was worth a share anyway...
First of all, a confession: I bore really easily, and over the last year I have actually found videoing my playing to be a really helpful practice tool. Not only can I listen back easily (and therefore pick holes in every single thing I do!), but I can also watch my hands and face as I play. We all 'teach' ourselves all the time, but this process allows me to observe my playing from a totally different perspective. Practising using video technology has helped me to spot issues I think I might otherwise have missed. I can also set myself goals, and at the end of the process I feel I've achieved something. This week I took the whole thing a stage further and downloaded the 'acapella' app - and basically it's tons of fun :)
Previously, recording multi-track video was a total nightmare (and involved using MovieMaker multiple times, and making my own click track.... ), I did a 4-part recording this way at Christmas-time last year and nearly drove myself mad! This app makes it all so much easier. It's dead easy to use, and you can set your own click track to suit & listen back as you add more layers. The free version will only give you a couple of minutes recording time (and be warned you need lots of spare memory if you're going to record for longer or with more layers!), but I paid for the full version, and am actually really impressed. Whoever designed this knew what musicians would need and how to make it intuitive to use. One nit I would pick though, is that there doesn't *seem* to be a way to balance up the parts/ screens before doing the final render. Some sort of separate mix-desk for the audio would be helpful. Perhaps there is one and I've just not found it yet!
Recording in this way is great for improving things like rhythm, intonation, and listening skills. You can even collaborate with other users of the app. This makes it a really fun and creative practice tool.
This weekend my better half whipped up an arrangement for me and the result is below (clarinet geeks, I'll post a link to where you can buy it shortly!). No this recording isn't perfect, but hey, it was lots of fun to make and I've been stunned by the number of shares & positive feedback! Watch 'til the end ;)
'Stage Fright', 'nerves', 'jitters'... Just a few words to describe a feeling most of us are familiar with. It's something we pretty much have to learn to manage in order to perform.
But what do these words actually mean? I'm not entirely sure.... They attempt to describe a feeling which may be very different for each person. Perhaps they don't do justice to what can be a very real struggle.
But nerves aren't all bad.... Being nervous means you CARE. Nerves can help us to 'up our game' and provide the additional focus and energy required to perform well. It's an evolutionary thing... The physiological changes which accompany a stressful situation can help our bodies to perform at their optimum level. Once upon a time that might have meant the difference between eating and not eating!
The problem comes when our nerves get the better of us, and start to make things worse.
Someone recently told me that I didn't appear at all nervous or anxious about my playing. Well done me then! My 'game face' must be strong - or it was that day!
I know I'm not alone in managing my nerves even if it's not something we musicians tend to talk about a lot. Over the years they have sometimes been easier to deal with and less bothersome, and at other times harder to manage, but they've been a constant companion. 'Nerves' can manifest in a variety of ways. They can be very short-lived or more insidious, less immediately obvious but with perhaps with more far-reaching consequences...
Most of us would relate to some of the well-known symptoms of nerves, things like:
There are probably as many different ways of coping with these things as there are people. I've observed musicians going 'into' themselves before a concert, mentally and physically taking themselves off somewhere else - I sometimes do this myself. Dealing with other people and making polite conversation can be all a bit much if you're feeling nervous. Some people actively seek out distraction though, and that's perfectly valid too as long as you're not annoying anybody! Deep breathing can help a lot, mindfulness exercises are wonderful. Some people swear by rescue remedy, EFT or homeopathy. Ultimately though the hope is that all your hard work, experience and FOCUS will carry you through and the nerves will melt away. But it can be a hard mental game.
But then there are the more persistent 'nerves', which many of us will also have to manage at some point:
To a degree these are also 'normal' signs of nervousness, and I'm sure many people can relate to them. But what do you do if you find that they are affecting your ability to do your job or are starting to make your life a misery? What if a feeling of nervousness or nervous thinking isn't just limited to the short window of time around a performance? This is no joke. Out of control thoughts and feelings like this do destroy lives and careers. Being unable to perform without (self-)medicating with beta-blockers or alcohol is far from unusual in the music industry but the reality is that for some people it's the only way to pay the bills. Perhaps the saddest part of this scenario is how little we talk about it - it's the 'elephant in the room'. One reason why people might not want to talk about it is that admitting to getting nervous is like admitting that you might make a mistake, and we can't have that! ;)
Whether we talk about it or not, the reality is that it just isn't healthy to spend too much time in an anxious state like this, it can become habitual. It starts to feel normal, even though it isn't. Perhaps we even become addicted to the drama created when we spend our lives a constant cycle of high anxiety/ adrenalin/ relief! But it's important to remember that while short-lived periods of anxiety don't do us any harm (humans are designed to cope with some stress), living life in what is essentially a permanently anxious state of mind isn't healthy.
But think for a minute: if your amazing mind can conjure up all this anxiety and stress out of nowhere then just imagine what might happen if you were able to harness its 'creative power' for good!
I don't remember there being much focus (if any) about nerves or managing nerves when I was at music college and I think this was a shame. Professional musicians spend countless hours practising, constantly analysing their playing in minute detail for ways to improve it. Many musicians are 'perfectionists', but it doesn't take a genius to work out that the flip side of all this perfectionism can be anxiety....
There's no shame in a top sportsperson consulting a sports psychologist, Andy Murray recently talked about this very thing. In fact, mental strength is recognised as being a very important part of what makes a champion. However we can't expect our musical-mind-game to be strong if the rest of our life is a mess, so it's important not to look at any one thing in complete isolation. Getting enough sleep, eating well, not drinking too much, getting exercise, getting out into the fresh air & having time out & balance in the rest of your life counts for a lot too. These things keep us grounded and anchored generally.
It's easy to see how a strong mental game could help your career though: imagine walking into an audition with a strong mindset - regardless of how beautifully your competition can play you're at an advantage if they're a bundle of nerves and you are beautifully focused, confident and composed!
I remember my teacher suggesting I read a book called 'The Inner Game of Music' (or the original book which inspired it 'The Inner Game of Tennis') when I was a student. This was good advice and I still recommend these books to others. Essentially the books describe a type of 'mindfulness' which enables us to shut down the negative self-talk which can accompany a performance. Staying 'in the moment' is powerful but it requires practice.
I found out about the power of hypnosis when I used it for the births of my last two children. Our brains really can be trained to work for us, as well as against us! I've also used hypnosis as a way of dealing with performance-related nerves and I've found that it can work extremely well.
If your nerves are really affecting your life, then please do get proper help. There are interventions which can make life easier. It might cost money and take a while to sort out, but just imagine for a moment that your instrument had a broken spring or wasn't working correctly. You'd get it fixed, right? Your mind is every bit as important.
And if all else fails, I also recommend this ;)
What techniques help you with your performance anxiety? Do you have any suggestions for others? Please let me know. I'd love to share them in a future post.
The pictures above show two 'Reverse-Facing' Bonade ligatures. The one on the left was bought in the 1990s and the one on the right a few years ago as a replacement. I don't see too many people using Bonades these days, but some time ago they were pretty popular. I feel they help to give a nice dark, creamy sound and facilitate articulation. I'd often use my Bonade with a good reed which I felt was slightly too 'excitable', just to bring it into line!
My last post was about variations in Vandoren reeds made years apart. Some differences between reeds can, of course, be explained by the fact that they're made out of organic material and this means there are natural variations. However, the differences in the ligatures above, cannot.
You can easily see by eye that these two ligatures are NOT identical. I measured the distance between the railings with my (fairly) trusty vernier calipers.
The older of the two ligatures (which is more tarnished), measures approx 2mm between the rails at the top, and 3mm at the bottom. The more modern of the two measures slightly over 4mm at the top of the rails and just over 3mm at the bottom!
This means the rails which make that all-important contact with the reed (the whole purpose of a ligature!) on the more modern 'Bonade' are TWICE the distance apart at the top compared with the older ligatures. The rails actually start to come together (converge) towards the bottom of the reed! The older ligature does the opposite, the rails diverge slightly towards the bottom and they start much closer together at the top.
Neither ligature has been altered in any way by me. Like I said, the Bonade has a lot of great qualities which I appreciate. I bought the first ligature directly from a good shop, and the second online (through Amazon), from what I thought was a reputable seller. Of course it's possible I bought a fake.
I also see that many of the reputable UK dealers are listing Bonades as 'out of stock' at the moment, perhaps the maker has stopped making them? It's also interesting to note that these ligatures still seem to be widely available from less reputable sources elsewhere in the world, and seemingly at a cut price... (I paid the full whack, mind!).
I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has noticed any changes in these ligatures though?
P.S. - my reason for replacing the original ligature was that the screw thread went on it after a fair number of years. I have to say the same thing happened with the replacement after less than a year of very occasional use (nb. I don't think it was due to over-tightening!).
I'd love to get my hands on an original one of these with some life left in it if anyone has one!
However - when you really believe in something and you know it will do good for the community, that does make it easier to 'sell it'. I'll admit that having experience as a performer probably was helpful in making this presentation, but it's one thing playing music and quite another talking about it... I was quaking in my boots! Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
I began by talking (with a little help from my ukulele) about the real good that accessing music & playing music can do for people. Not just for some people but for all people... Then I went on to explain what exactly Ultonia Arts would spend the funding on if we were successful in obtaining it. The most incredible thing about this experience for me (apart from the fact that I actually went through with it!), was that our company was chosen to receive the funding by popular vote.
This means that people really DO believe in what we're trying to do and really wanted to support us. A number of people also came up to me afterwards to tell me that they'd voted for me/ us, and that they really felt music was so important to life. It was inspiring to witness how many of those in attendance valued the Arts in exactly the same way that we do.
So huge thanks to Social Enterprise NI, Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, and especially Derek Browne at the Social Enterprise Hub. Can't wait to share more about our plans as we move forward.
So I was just gifted some amazing 'vintage' Vandoren clarinet reeds by another one of my wonderful mentors and friends, Arthur Acheson... The earliest reeds (unplayed) date back 50 years to 1966. The others are (I'm estimating) early 1980's and early 2000's.
My flabber is well and truly ghasted and I'm going to post some more blogs on these as and when I can - but in the meantime, here's me embarrassing myself trying to open one of the boxes!