The Music Student’s Guide to Online Resources

A few weeks ago, I achieved a technological milestone upon the acquisition of my very first iPhone. As much as I loved my LG Verizon flip phone, and the reactions I elicited when I whipped it out in public (“Whoa, I haven’t seen one of those since 2009!!”), the fact that it was taking me five minutes to respond to a single text message finally pushed me over the (cutting) edge and into the twenty-first century. As I’ve been marveling at the wonders manifested in Google maps, Data plans and Siri (who, incidentally, makes a great conversation partner on long commutes), I’ve often thought about just how many more resources are available to the high school-age generation than there were when I was that age (back in the technological dark ages of 2004). Not only can we look up pretty much anything at the tap of a screen, but there are now a wealth of music-related blogs and websites as well. Here is a brief compilation of some sites of note, and why you should check them out: A great site for news and commentary on the orchestra scene, as well as editorial style blogs on issues pertinent to the classical music community as a whole. Based out of the Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music leadership, Polyphonic’s contributors range from prominent orchestra musicians to conservatory presidents to young professionals (like myself!). An excellent resource for violinists and other string players alike; while the posts are often focused on technical issues specific to the violin, there are also a lot of topics covered, such as musical entrepreneurship, that are relevant to all musicians.… Click Here

October’s Question of the Month: How did you Choose your Primary Instrument?

Welcome back to Credite Voices: Question of the Month! This October we’re asking: How did you choose your primary instrument?  Why is it that you are a violist, pianist, bagpiper or flutophonist? How old were you when you knew? Did you decide or was it chosen for you? Did you ever switch? Are you still deciding?

This is your chance to be heard (and read) on the Credo Blog! Responses will be edited, compiled and published at the end of the month. Check back on October 30th to find out how you and your friends forged your musical identities. So, how did you choose your primary instrument? … Click Here

Practice Tips from a Neuroscientist-Musician

Molly Gebrian is a professor of Viola and Music Theory at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. She was also once a student of PSlo’s at Oberlin, where she graduated with dual degrees in Viola Performance and Neuroscience. Dr. Gebrian has authored some really fascinating papers on music and the brain, including this one, which focuses on brain research that should influence your practising.

The whole piece is worth a read, but two things particularly stuck with me: it’s really, really important to “sing” in your head while you play, and even more important to get some sleep in between practice sessions instead of cramming the night before a lesson or orchestra concert. There are so many more great nuggets of information in the paper (musicians have really weird brains!)– so just go read it!

—Jessica CorwinClick Here

Tips On Managing Stress From The Hot Seat

I recently had the chance to talk with Phil Smith and Steve Hendrickson, both of whom are long time veterans of the “hot seat”, major symphony principal trumpeters, and men of faith. Our conversations revolved around managing stress and pressures of the job and how their faith has provided perspective for them over their symphony careers.

People feel and react to stress differently and musicians, even elite symphonic musicians, are no exception. Stories of great players who lose their nerve, have a breakdown or succumb to addiction are legion now as well as in past generations. Why do some seem to thrive on the pressure while others burn out? What sources of stress are most prevalent in classical musicians? Do people who come from a spiritual perspective have an advantage when dealing with stress? The hope is that by reading this you will become more aware of the realities of stress in the symphony and be more fully prepared to face and manage your stress in a healthy way.

“A career in music is a series of successes and failures,” says Steve Hendrickson. “With failure – flush it down the toilet, forgive yourself and approach the next concert aggressively. You’ve got to be tough minded.”

Performance anxiety gets more performers twisted than any other form of stress. This anxiety can come from a physical playing problem that might arise and grow into doubt and then fear, or it can germinate just as easily from personal or musical insecurities. Either way, performance anxiety tends to self-perpetuate and grow over time unless checked.… Click Here

Spiccato Technique: Foundations and Position

This is part 1 of a three-part series on developing spiccato bow stroke for violin and viola.

Welcome, Credites, to a highly technical Develop post! If you have been struggling with getting an even, relaxed, consistent spiccato bow stroke on violin or viola, keep reading. This blog entry has some PSlo-approved words of wisdom about preparing to bounce your bow. Next month this topic will continue with guidance on how to actually bounce your bow!

Violin/viola spiccato principles

  • Drop, not lift. When we say to play something “off the string” with spiccato, we don’t mean lifting the bow from contact with the string. In fact, the bow comes off the string in response to being dropped; it is “lifted” by being bounced, as opposed to being raised by the right hand.
  • The slower, the lower. Slower off-the-string strokes naturally work below the balance point, while fast spiccato and sautillé are done near or at the balance point. Before you start your spiccato stroke, make sure you are in the appropriate part of your bow.
  • The right hand should react to the bow, not the other way around. The spiccato player’s job is to guide the bow in its natural movement, not to manipulate or control it. As complications arise (string crossings, rhythmic variations, accents, etc.), remember to minimize your intrusion into the bouncing action, especially by keeping your body relaxed.
  • The bow travels in an arc-shaped path. Any given point on the bow should travel in a “U” or smile shape, with height and width varying with the speed and articulation of the stroke.
Click Here

How to Practice for Orchestra

Musicians are blessed with the unique gift of always being in community with others.  The nature of our craft requires fellowship, because music necessitates collaboration. One of the most obvious examples of a music community is the orchestra.  There’s nothing quite like playing on stage and hearing the sounds of the full ensemble wash over you from every side.  When a section solo comes along, individual styles and tones morph into a single voice that flows outward.  Hundreds of people become one body that moves, listens, and conveys emotion with the utmost fluidity.

This, of course, only occurs when an orchestra is completely in-sync with itself.  We’ve all been a part of a rehearsal that hasn’t gone very well.  Preparation is obviously lacking and everyone’s emotions are on edge because a whole two hours have been seemingly wasted.  It’s hard to fit in adequate music preparation when there is already so much work on one’s plate.  What with solo and chamber repertoire to practice, homework to complete, jobs to attend to, and sane minds to maintain, something’s going to get the short end of the stick.

So, how can we bring our best to that first orchestra rehearsal?  How can we help set the tone for a great rotation and future performance?

  1. Listen to the music.  In order to understand your part and play with confidence, you need to know your role in the orchestra.  Is this a section solo?  Are you a bass line here?  Who has the melody?
Click Here

Calling All Credites!

It’s that time of year again… Halloween was barely a week ago, and yet department stores across the the states are already pulling out their annual holiday merchandise. Yes, the holiday chain has started, preparing to carry us through the hustle and bustle of anxious preparations and fantastic feasts. But often we seem to forget about one of the most important holidays, or rather, day of solemnity: Veterans Day. Most of us don’t even know it’s coming up, until the day it’s here. Many school districts even give the day off in order for us to stay at home and honor our veterans. For me, this year was the first year I haven’t had Veterans Day off in my life. Instead, our school decided to have a whole school assembly in the gym, dedicated to honoring the veterans who have served. Ahh there’s that buzzword: service. And as I was sitting in the orchestra playing my heart out on the Stars and Stripes Forever, I began to think about what that word actually means.

It almost seems second nature to us when we thank a veteran. We know to go up to them and thank them for their service, but it never really occurs to us what that service is that we are thanking for. These people risked their lives for our freedom. They missed countless family gatherings, celebrations, birthdays, holidays, and more, all so we could sleep comfortably at night. And what’s more, they had to know upon deployment that they might never return home.… Click Here

Your Answers to the November Question of the Month!

This month, we discovered that the best music teachers are those who inspire and go above and beyond their job description.  Find out what your fellow Credites had to say about the characteristics that make a fabulous teacher:

“I recall the best teachers were those who celebrated both the small progresses made and the major ones also. They were enthusiastic about the current piece being learned, offered manageable bite sized information and were clear about how to apply this and why it would make a difference.They were inspirational in how they lived life, and might even have been extraordinarily accomplished. They were interested in how I was doing, and not just in music, but in life….and they were a very rare breed indeed! :-)!”

-Ailee, Credo parent

“In my eyes, a great teacher will push me til I can go no farther, praising only when I truly deserve it.  And of course, they must be able to motivate through their criticism, not discourage.”

-Shiloh, Future Credite

“Someone who demands the absolute best that a student can offer.  This varies from student to student but allows each to be as successful as they are able.  Not every teacher is a perfect fit for every student.  When that perfect fit is found, the results are amazing for everyone involved.”

-Tracy, Credo Parent

“A great music teacher is someone who goes beyond just the technical aspect of things, and really digs deep. Someone who pays attention to the emotion, the expression, and the beauty of the music.… Click Here

Christmas in November??

Last night, I was riding home from a concert when, stopped at a red light, I looked out the window to see a brightly-lit Christmas tree featured prominently in the window of a roadside home. I looked happily at it for a moment, but then thought to myself: why I am looking at a Christmas tree during the first week of November? This wasn’t the only sign of the impending holiday season I have witnessed lately, either: my neighbors strung their Christmas lights while their jack-o-lanterns were still smoldering on their front stoop, three separate magazines advertising “holiday shopping sales” arrived in my mailbox last week, and to top all, I took a wrong turn at Kohls the week before Halloween to find myself surrounded by fake snow, plastic evergreens, and Santa hats.

It seems every year we push the start of the holiday season back further and further, bordering on an almost Whoville-like obsession with the festivities. Needless to say, it’s given me a lot to ponder. What is the reason for this “Christmas in November” phenomenon? Are people putting out Christmas lights on Halloween to escape doing so in the polar vortex, or because they are eager to compensate for the newly-arrived cold and darkness with symbols of a season filled with warmth and happiness? And more critically, what do these tendencies reveal about our cultural values as they pertain to the Christmas holiday?

The answers to these questions do not come easily, but looking back to the origins of the Christmas celebration provides a good starting point.… Click Here