Musical expectation: the reality

This cartoon has recently gone viral in the music teaching community.

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As musicians and music teachers we are fully aware that we are not necessarily generating the next performing “wunderkind”. Rather we want to focus on developing a mentorship programme that betters and develops the child as a whole.

The comic however points to a disconnect within the music system and the expectations involved in becoming a musician, and how this may affect a child’s academic, social and physical performance for the better.

Music has long since been associated with a higher IQ, and better language and mathematical skills. An interesting study has been initiated by a group of researchers at the Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) who are interested in discerning whether this is true.

“We are broadly interested in the impact of music training on cognitive, socio-emotional and brain development of children,” says Assal Habibi. Habibi is the lead author and a senior research associate at the BCI in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “These results reflect that children with music training, compared with the two other comparison groups, were more accurate in processing sound.”

But what does this actually mean for your child’s primary education at WPPS?

Ear.pngThe auditory pathway from ear to brain is sent via forms of vibration. This is then converted into neural signal. The neural signal is sent to the brainstem, up to the thalamus in the center of the brain and finally to the primary auditory cortex located on either side of the brain. When participating in the practice of music, the auditory system is able to more efficiently assess and recognise melody, as this pathway is utilised and trained

This results in the ability to process sound more effectively, which in turn betters “language development, speech perception and reading skills.” (Gersema, Emily. “Children’s brains develop faster with music training”.www.news.usc.edu. 20 June 2016) All these skills are vital aspects used in our schooling system, as well as our day to day interaction with friends, teachers and fellow persons.

These tests were used on a study group in Los Angeles using MRI brain scans and EEG to track electrical activity. The assessment of the children started prior to their musical training, and continued throughout their music training. They were then compared to students that had followed the same academic programme without music. Although, this study is fairly new the results favour the musical programme of learning written music. The BCI plan to continue their study to assess the effect on a full academic life in music. You can find out more by contacting them on their website http://dornsife.usc.edu/

I hope that this short overview helps better the understanding of what we are striving to do in our music programme at WPPS.

Our doors are always open if you want to know more!

Brass parenting: some basics for a successful year

Welcome to February 2018! My 2018 started with a “whoosh!” and I am still receiving questions from parents on how to best use their music departments to fully realise their  children’s potential. I decided to write a few basics that parents could follow on how to better their relationship with their child’s teacher, and to fully utilise the skills and knowledge available out there. This e-note is for students who are based at a music programme in school, but there are some points that are still valid for students who might be having private lessons.

Nitty Gritty:

  • Get in touch with the music teacher and introduce yourself. Let them know you are on their side. Most music teachers want their students to flourish (it is the reason we teach) and knowing that you support this process is great in establishing a working relationship.
  • Read the T’s and C’s of your music departments contracts. This really helps avoid any surprises. If there isn’t a standard letter that goes out at the beginning of every year, ask general FAQ’s. These include rates, when they must be paid, how they must be paid, what is expected in terms of practise, notice period, and information on external exams (ABRSM, Trinity and UNISA).
  • If you think you want your child to perform in the external exams, you should confirm this with the teacher so that are aware of your intentions. Students need to be practising fairly regularly to enter into these exams. Regular practise allows for an exam to be a positive experience for both your child and the teacher.
  • If your child is in a music programme at school, check which day your child has their lesson, and make sure they bring along their instrument and music.

Planning for success:

  • As the year starts, consider scheduling in some weekly practice times. We suggest 20 minutes daily at our school, but this is sometimes difficult to achieve in busy schedules. I would say that students should try to play their instruments 5 times a week. Those who can manage more, will reap the benefits but it is important to be realistic in preparing for the academic year. The schedule can go behind the bedroom door, be stuck into the music/school diary or anywhere to help the students remember their practice time.
  • If the student is able, I would really recommend getting involved in an ensemble programme. This can count towards a daily practice session and involves community (playing with friends), team building, and stops the isolation of individual practice.
  • There is always something to practice. I give my students quite a bit of music so if you hear the words “I don’t have homework” it is not true! On a brass instrument practising can include:  the foundations of long notes/tonguing/flexibilities, scales, pieces, band pieces, music found online (that is applicable for the student’s level).

Planning for the future:

  • If your child shows an affinity towards music, and you think this might be an option for high school please consider enrolling your child into music theory.  I would, personally, recommend that, if possible, all music students do some theory, as it is an integral part of the subject and helps young musicians with their reading (even sport has rules and strategy that need learning.)
  • Get your child to listen to as much music as possible! This can be fun and is important in exposing your child to the various styles and artists out there.
  • At the International Young Water Professionals conference, I was able to meet one of the engineers at Aurecon, an engineering firm in Cape town. He referred me to this article regarding the importance of creative thinking that is developed and nurtured in the arts subjects. Here is the link: https://justimagine.aurecongroup.com/is-a-master-of-fine-arts-the-new-mba/. I would really recommend reading the article as a whole (for perspective) but the quotes I would like to include are:

“From Richard Branson to Bill Gates, ‘creativity’ ranks as one of the top ten traits of all billionaire entrepreneurs across the globe.”

AND

“Art is an important, dynamic part of the mould that makes up the progressive business climate today . Should we be studying Tchaikovsky and Shakespeare at the same time as the management theories of Peter Drucker?”

Good luck for 2018! You know where to find me if you need me.

P.S. Some listening to get you started: Oystein Baadsvik plays Czardas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

”Duh” tips!

IMG_20170117_152721_631.jpgFor the young professional.

So you have just received your fancy degree (OR are busy with your fancy degree) and need to get a job to pay the bills. What are the things that fly out the window the moment you start working?

 

When I started working it was super tricky to balance all the things you learned in varsity. You no longer have the hours (even though a music degree feels like the most ”full” 4-10 years of your life) that you had previously. I am going to write six ”duh” tips to help those who feel like they are drowning, and hopefully make their start easier in a busy career. This post is entitled ”duh” tips because when you hear them you will think ”I would obviously do that!” BUT we don’t. We get tired or want to crawl into bed or just don’t feel like being an adult.

No. 1 Schedule a time to practise.

Don’t lose the years of work you did in the practise room. You most probably will not be able to keep up the practise regime you had in varsity (unless you nabbed that prime orchestral spot) but try to at least maintain it. Listen to your body. I practise super early in the morning so practise feels like it is a priority. I am awake. I know that my day will get busy, and by then end of the day I won’t have the energy to practise. Also, use the practise time as YOU time. Don’t look at your phone, don’t get distracted, don’t listen to your colleagues problems. Practise. And enjoy the fact that you can, and that you made it an important part of your day.

No. 2 Budget

This one is a sensitive issue because people don’t want to cut out those two Vida coffees a week but seriously, you cannot choose coffee over something like instrument maintenance or rent. Also, in an industry that doesn’t always pay per month, it is a good thing to budget and save. Be realistic and honest in doing your budget. If Vida is something that has to be on the list make sure it is there i.e. don’t think of it as “I just got X gig money – Vida!!” Include everything from valve oil to new concert shoes. If you need help in budgeting, ask mom or go to a financial planner (the banks offer this kind of service) but don’t leave it too late. The point is to consider what you need verses what you want. Rent, work clothes, food, cell phone contract, retirement annuity, have to come before evenings out, drinks, coffee or movies. It is vital to get this balance right in the beginning.

P.S. Vida can be replaced with whatever luxury you have in life. I just know students, here in CT, who will choose coffee over bread!

No. 3 Watch your health

Stress is something that every career has but I have never met as many unhealthy people as musicians in SA. Obviously this does not apply to everyone, but growing up it was a normal thing at all the courses I attended, for the majority of musicians, to smoke, drink alcohol and drink loads of coffee. This coupled with the late nights and crazy schedule normally ends in a sick person who has snot running down their face during their performance. This kind of life might be because we are young but why not start looking after your body now? It is recommended that 30 minutes of cardiovascular is a good to start to a healthy body and mind. It is good to flex your creative mind and go for an activity that gets you outside or even better, strengthens your core – something I find vital in playing a large and heavy instrument. Watch what you eat and drink and don’t overdose on coffee. I was a serious coffee addict and I have managed to get it down to three cups a day and even that is too much. Keep hydrated especially in winter. We have just come out of term 2 and most of the music staff were suffering from headaches do to stress and dehydration. Finally, look after your teeth, and go for the annual health checks. Put this in your budget because it is important for a long and happy musical life.

No. 4 Be proactive in your work space

Our industry does not allow for us to be “only an euphonist”. Keep this in mind while you head out into the industry. If you are going into education be proactive and learn the recorder, or teach theory, or learn to arrange music. By the way, these things are not hard – they just need practise. We need to be multi-faceted. If ever you are freaking out about something go ask someone in the industry, who is already doing it, for their advice. If you are a brass player you will need to go find a venue for the concert you will want to put on. It is scary but it is also worth it and through the process you learn the important skill of concert management. Jump in and just do it!

No. 5 Make money but keep your soul alive

When you finally get busy with your gigs just keep a mental note of the things that made you want to be a musician. So often, I meet musicians who have lost their love for the work that they do because “it is just a job”. It is your job but we are very lucky to be able to have a job we chose. Listen to music, read poetry, read books, watch your favourite artists on youtube, find a composer that gets your heart revved up, or go walk in nature and be filled with the nostalgia and wonder that you are living your dream. Also, keep up your practise (as said before) and choose that piece that you thought you might never be able to play, and learn it.

 

No. 6 Pace yourself

The above paragraph and this one kind of tie in. It is so easy to hit burn out by doing too much. Too much, however, is how a lot of us survive so keep in mind that you need to take some time off. Put time off into your schedule! I, for one, am still terrible at this but I am learning to be better and since scheduling in time off my energy levels are up. I also see friends more, go out more, and basically be a better person.

 

#vrotmango

I can safely say I am “gatvol” for the inconsistency we have when it comes to transporting instruments in this country. Can someone please just define a SAFE set of parameters musicians can follow to ensure that we get to our gigging destination without severe damage to our instruments.

Phax Trio was flown up to perform a gig in JHB this last weekend. Our flight was 45 minutes late and we needed to meet our driver. On arrival for our dress rehearsal I opened my case and saw that my bell had a large dent in it and my case was broken. I had followed ALL THE RULES of the airline, Mango, and there were huge fragile stickers on the case. I have made contact with Mango via twitter and apparently they have been in touch. I am not sure who else might have my number and e-mail address but I have received no contact so far. Mango says they have tried to e-mail and call  – I guess technology does make time stamping an easier thing to do these days. When flying back, I was told at the check-in counter, that Mango in Cape Town had not followed protocol and that I was allowed to walk my instrument through. Except, Mango made my colleague put his tuba on the conveyor belt (!!) as there was no oversize check-in and no staff to walk it to the plane (apparently my colleagues legs can’t count). So what is the policy? Also, in response to the damage, we were just sarcastically told that “Well if that is how your case looks, it can’t be that great a carrier case”. I would like to mention that our carrier cases are like coffins and reinforced.

I ask that any musician who has suffered the tragedy of having their livelihood damaged to retweet or help me campaign for #vrotmango. We need a good and safe set of rules set up to protect our instruments and have them treated better than the golf clubs that get all the special attention. Incidentally, a R850 pit bull terrier bead work was given better treatment than a Besson BE2052 Prestige Euphonium. #vrotmango

*At the time of this e-note, @FlyMangoSA has unfollowed me on twitter. It must be annoying being asked to provide an actual service.

 

South Africa’s musicians suck

Really? I have been hearing this for years. It seems to be general consensus that our industry isn’t alive, things are going backwards, we are not the correct standard, our teachers don’t compare to Europe’s etc. Maybe it is the usual thing that the people who simply don’t know any better have the loudest voice but, this sentiment keeps coming up.

I recently decided to start classical marimba lessons. I have always loved percussion as a section and the marimba’s sound wakes something up in my brain every time I hear it. I don’t suck too much so I got involved in our school’s percussion ensemble and I have learnt that we, as South African musicians do not suck. There are a number of things that are key to the music experience that are taken for granted in this country:

  • Learning to juggle life and music. At school, it is academics, sport, music, drama, dance, parents, life, friends. As we get older it is bond payments, car payments, children, student loans…dogs. We start doing little bits of things early on and this is good. We need to learn how to juggle having a life and a vocation. I don’t know anyone who only practices one aspect of music as their sole career. Even the great performers give master classes, no? And I am sure they have hobbies too.
  • Ensemble experience. Barring a few people I have met, we do in fact have the culture of “let’s jam guys”. There are projects across the country that bring people together and let them make music. Different projects. We have a lively music culture. It may not be a genre that we like/prefer but it is there. And if you don’t like what you hear on the radio or hear when you go out, only you can change that.
  • I mentioned “different projects”. We have such variety in this country and are exposed to so much. Rich culture, mixed culture. Rich music, mixed music. I think this is possibly one of the greatest strengths we do have and gives us such vitality and colour.
  • Rhythm – maybe we each have varying degrees of  rhythm  but the ‘gees’ (spirit) is there.

Yeah, okay, so (for some) we are not as good as that Chinese kid who has had the best teacher and has only ever practised. I am not advocating that you stop practising – why drive a Polo if you can drive a Ferrari? But the Polo will still get you from A to B and you should acknowledge and accept its worth. I think the best thing is that, unlike the world which is not fair and means that especially if you are a muso you may never drive a Ferrari; in the context of life long learning you could still become a Ferrari – and the only person who has full control of that is you. Keep learning, keep practising but keep in mind the things you do have to offer. Keep in mind that by playing in band at school, going to national festivals, playing with as many people as you can, learning how to make a poster, even holding that waitressing job, is all good and is an investment in yourself.

The other point that I think is extremely important is if we keep entering the world beauty pageants knowing that we probably don’t fit in, we will keep losing and keep thinking that we suck. The greats are never remembered for doing exactly what they were told but rather for challenging perspectives and driving change. Drive change. If you want an eight piece tuba ensemble make it work. I can honestly say, that maybe you won’t have as much of an audience as Justin Bieber, but there are people out there who would feel the same fire as you. And if it makes your heart burn – do it.

Ultimately, kudos to the music teachers, music composers, music administrators, music funders, music parents, music students, music lovers, music supporters and music performers. You all make it tick and keep going. We must remember that we do have a lot to offer and that yes, at times, when funding dries up or you just can’t seem to get a gig, it feels like all that time is wasted. It isn’t and you don’t suck for doing it.

I think I am feeling a little nostalgic as we, WPPS music department, head off to the EC this month on tour. I am grateful for what I had there and look forward to sharing what we have worked on with both Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth. Hopefully, I get to play in the percussion ensemble on tour too!

A is for ABRSM…I mean August

I am not sure why, but August in South Africa’s music scene is always a crazy time of the year. Maybe it is because we are all predisposed to preparing for our ABRSM exams and as we get older we can’t help but keep up that “must aim for August” mentality.

This August is no different. I start by jetting off to East London for the annual East London Youth Orchestra Course. This year they will be focussing on chamber music too, and so there will be a host of ensembles (brass, wind, percussion), a jazz band and wind band. The team includes Wesley and Lisa Wong, who run the course, Danre Strydom from UFS (Buffet clarinet artist), Neteske Horton (sax queen who is based in EL) and myself. I love working with a group of kids and team that are purely interested in making our SA music scene better. This time round I also get to flex some conducting muscle with their wind band. If you are in East London between 6-9 August stay in touch by following them on their FB page and come support the concerts.  This course is endorsed by the South African National Youth Orchestra Foundation.

Mycmc is excited to see Emma Luyendijk (who has returned fresh from Musicians without Borders), this time with the very talented Nicole D’Oliviera. They will be performing movements from Beethoven’s 1st Sonata, Massenet’s Meditation and De Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. These concerts are always lots of fun and even offer supper. If you want to join for supper please call 021 674 2596 (church office) or contact Denise on denisehip@yahoo.com the Friday before. Alternatively, come along at 6:30PM on 17 August and watch this two play up a storm for only R50.

Baobab Trio are back from a successful National Arts Festival trip and are bringing our programme to the lovely people of Cape Town on the 28 August at The Rosebank Theatre. Tickets R100, bookings at 072 316 6133 or rosebanktheatre@gmail.com. We will be playing some latin, some classical stalwarts as well as some of our own compositions. There always seems to be a hesitancy towards newer classical works – well you need not worry! Our music tells stories about our own South African soil, rain, baobab trees and elephants and are completely easy on the ear. If you are someone who enjoys the CT market scene we will also be playing at Root44 on the 28 August.

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In addition to this, good luck to all the music teachers out there who are busy preparing their students for our exam run! I guess we will see each other at the end of this month and probably need a few glasses of wine to celebrate.

Watch this space for more exciting projects happening still this year!

Bright lights!

I recently had the opportunity of being scouted for a TV commercial. I went for my first casting, second casting, was called back for a third casting to check one more time and then heard nothing. The company involved is an American company who I can only assume has come to “Africa” (as they called it) to get an inexpensive commercial made. I know from friends how difficult this industry is and how it really weighs on one’s confidence but I feel someone needs to say a few things about this process:

First, a bit of a music rant, for an industry that pays people a minimum of R5000 a day to R100 000 a day, you would think they would have some respect for another industry. The fact that we (all the musicians) were asked to come in, over and over, on our time was just ridiculous. If you even suggested you had something else on it was seen as bad faith on your part (not by the South African studio but by the American company)

Secondly, considering how much flack the media is getting over ‘real body’ models overseas I found it slightly disturbing that following the third casting a number of adverts went around looking for a ‘skinny’ trombonist. Many colleagues and acquaintances referred them to me not knowing that I (nor any of the other musicians who play the required instrument) had already been to three castings – and none of us were sufficiently ‘skinny’ enough for the company. I found the outcome of the final choice really disappointing. None of the musicians that were auditioned were over-weight, but none of them made it because basically we were the ‘wrong body type’. The last time I heard the words ‘wrong body type’ was from my size 4 ballet teacher when I was 10 years old. The company eventually settled on a musician – not one that could actually play the instrument they were looking for and so was to mimic playing. The person’s qualification was that they were a very very skinny person. Huh? Considering all the hours they told each of us that they wanted authenticity, this was a quite a turn around. Also as a musician, and not an actor, I found it slightly insulting that after years of practise, looks were placed above the ability of each musician that auditioned.

I guess the “authentic” non-airbrushed campaigns we hear about, remain the few isolated examples of companies that care about “real” people and being authentic.

I think it is great when overseas companies come to “Africa” to shoot their films/commercials etc. because they bring money and help the industry but I also think we South Africans need to be very careful on what we are willing to sell ourselves for. I heard a disastrous story from another actress where a South African company went around the agents to cast actors only to save money (if you go through the agency you have to stick to contract). Luckily, the actors all realised but sjoe! The dishonesty! This experience made me glad that I’m a musician and I don’t have to deal with the challenges my friends do on a day to day basis in this industry – it must be like a rollercoaster of ups and downs.

Anyhow,  I best get back to doing what I love – practise!

A girl’s guide to gigging

I only have a few gigs left for the season and then I am off on what should be a sandy, Karoo holiday for sure. My last blog will be about an issue that has come up a few times this year. I have had the fortunate oppurtunity to hire some young musicians for gigs. I realised, after a few incidents, that not everyone is being told about the etiquette of gigging, which can lead to the frustration of the peformer, the hiring staff, and other performers. Here is a list of things to remember for your gigging career.

  • Do NOT sit on your cellphone during rehearsal or during the gig. We all take a pic here and there for social media but to be glued to your phone is unprofessional.
  • Always have your bank details (and tax number) on hand.
  •  Always be early. On time is fine but rather have a reputation for being ready and seated by the downbeat.
  • Check that you have your horn, mouthpiece, music, oil/lubricants, pencil and stand (the stand is a ‘biggy’ because not all venues own their own equipment and juggling music and instrument just looks silly)
  •  Keep an up-to-date performance diary/schedule and try not double book yourself. If you have a phone use the schedule app.
  •  Don’t be afraid to say when you have messed up. It can happen, and then it is much better for the organiser to know two weeks before as opposed to on the day. I know it makes you ‘look bad’ but it looks way worse if you don’t say anything at all.
  •  If you ask to share a ride offer something in return or pay for your part. The person will probably say don’t worry but it is a polite thing to do.
  • Look after yourself. Keep hydrated, eat as healthy as you can and try exercise.
  • Look after your instrument. You want to have a smooth performance.

Some of these may seem totally obvious, but even those who have been in the gigging scene can forget them and sharing as much information as you can helps everyone. I hope these help and see you through all your 2016 gigs! Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

September’s line up

September is abaobabll things Baobab. We will be gigging at the very hip The Piano Bar with a set of sultry latin and dressy (or undressed?) classical music. Then we will take our first Baobab tour through the Sunshine Coast. I am so thrilled to be playing with Olga Leonard (piano) and Babette Viljoen (accordion). These ladies are super talented and really show off how much talent we have in South Africa! I hope to see a few of you at some of the gigs.