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.
'Down wiv da kidz'
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 ;)
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.
Have you got what it takes?
The aim of most young instrumentalists planning a career in music is – as it has been for generations – to get a place a music college/ conservatoire. It’s a great idea. Music college is fantastic. It’s immersive, and young musicians have the opportunity to study with really great teachers and devote themselves to hours and hours of practice in order to hone their techniques and learn about their chosen field. Beyond this there are opportunities to perform and compete in lots of different settings, if you’re an orchestral musician you’ll learn about the audition process, and if you’re lucky perhaps you’ll get your first professional work somewhere down the line. It’s an incredibly energetic and exciting place to be.
This was the path I went down twenty (cough) years ago, and I don’t regret it for a single moment. I would absolutely encourage others to do the same….
…but here’s the thing… When you graduate, you are very unlikely to walk into a salaried job doing the thing you went there to do in the first place (playing or singing). In fact, in all likelihood it will never happen... You need to be damn good as standard, your face needs to fit (yes, it really does!), and to a certain degree those planets need to be in alignment too. Of course it’s also possible to enjoy a worthwhile & rewarding freelance performing career, but it’s competitive, and even regular freelancers will usually need another other source of income.
I’m not trying to depress you – actually far from it – so bear with me while I talk about myself for a bit..
I graduated at the top of my year at both undergraduate and postgraduate level at music college. I didn’t go on to get an orchestral job (to be honest I only did a handful of auditions), but I was lucky and freelanced for many years with orchestral clarinet sections who were for the most part very loyal and supportive. I supplemented work as a freelance clarinettist with some teaching which I juggled (and I do mean juggled!) around the travelling and playing. So far so good. Eventually I met my husband through work, and ‘settled down’. And that’s when the trouble started ;)
I remember telling one orchestral manager that I’d probably be free to work again three months after my first baby was born. She was a mother herself and advised me to wait and see how I got on…. It turned out I massively underestimated the effect that having a child would have on my life, and consequently on my career. At three months post-partum I barely knew my own name and in the end I was only able to get back to playing when she was around 14 months old. I can recall desperately trying to express milk for her in a portaloo at an outdoor gig followed by a speedy drive home! The glamour....
We didn’t plan it, but my husband & I ended up going down the ‘attachment parenting’ route with first one, then two, then three kids. Becoming a parent did affect my career opportunities (I don’t think that’s exclusive to music btw - it happens far more often than people admit, especially if you’re freelance), but other things changed too. My tolerance for the casual sexism I sometimes encountered also went into major decline. Things that had once seemed incredibly important suddenly didn’t seem so important anymore. I basically ended up taking a ‘career break’ – with no idea if I would end up having a career to go back to.
With my hands full and reluctant to waken small children once they finally went to sleep I found I needed new (quieter) outlets for my creativity – and I began writing and experimenting with henna art. Discovering that I was more than a musician was a major revelation! I began to realise that henna, the written word and music have a lot in common – they are all crafted by the artist out of core patterns (words, scales/ arpeggios, shapes). However this time I was teaching myself – I was improvising - something I found incredibly difficult to do on the clarinet. I began to realise that perhaps I was more than an instrumentalist, and I began to think of myself as a creative person.
As time went on (and the kids got older) I found myself desperate to get back to ‘myself‘, and myself meant music and playing the clarinet. But time away from the orchestral world and a new perspective on life meant I now viewed myself more as a creative being with something meaningful of my own to offer, my own ‘voice’, and my own ideas... Being able to play what's on the page, the way your colleagues do, and the way a conductor wants you to is so so important, but it's not the only thing... A simple shift of mindset was all that was required to allow me to see a whole host of new possibilities. Instead of being inside the box I had grown up in, I found myself outside of it.
Better late than never.
My career now isn’t the way I thought it would be when I first graduated, but ***NEWSFLASH*** life happens! And it will happen to you too in one way or another :) I now get even more joy from playing the clarinet and my career is more varied than I ever imagined it would be! No two days are ever the same. I work with people from age 4 to grandparents. I am much more open-minded in my approach to music-making. I lead workshops and am inspired by closer relationships with artists from other art forms. Music college equipped me with many of the skills I needed as a clarinettist but it by no means gave me all the skills I needed to be a music professional. And these days, that’s what it takes.
Now back to you – young musician with a world of possibilities at your feet/highly-skilled orchestral musician facing change….What do I want to communicate to you as you continue your musical journey?
I want you to know that music is your vehicle, but you are good at it because you’re a creative, because you’re an artist. You don’t need to confine yourself to any box... Plan, practice, prepare, but know that flexibility and adaptability is your best friend in the modern musical world. Your passion and creativity will enhance your work in ANY field. Believe it.
Here are a few practical suggestions from me: