#MusicAndMentalHealth Wisdom Wednesday: Rebecca Hass

This month on the blog on Wednesdays I’m aiming to feature the writing of a colleague who’s doing good work helping musicians find ways to balance work, life, and play. Whether they’re finding paths for themselves and sharing their journey, or actively guiding people through the process of gaining a good groundwork, these folks are truly thinking outside the box of our traditional grindstone mentality. The result is careers and people that are happier, more productive in the long run, and ultimately, more successful (and it all depends on how you define ‘success’).

This week, I’m delighted to excerpt some of the writing of my dear friend Rebecca Hass, whom you know from some of my past collaborations with piano as well as our efforts to institute a regular networking happy hour event for women in the MSP Metro’s music scene. Rebecca has been a champion of so many things positive and holistic in my life, as well as an excellent ear and mentor when it comes to difficult situations. Please check out her work, writing, and performances, and be sure to support her album of original Brazilian tunes Kickstarter, which launches May 29th!

Here are some of my favorite posts from Rebecca on balance, mental health, and creativity:

What is Enough

“Over the weekend, despite relaxing quite a bit, I felt unbelievably exhausted, moody, and irritable. (Hello, signs of burnout!) As this article explains, burnout is not a sudden state that you find yourself in, it’s a slow leak that creeps up on you (although you may not notice). I relate to many of the signs they listed. Teachers are definitely at risk for burnout, and people with my workaholic personality. So, I keep reminding myself that rest is part of the cycle of my work – I will not be able to function well if I don’t rest. (Easier said than done.)”

10 Survival Strategies for Busy Times

7) Batch tasks together

Schedule larger blocks of time to do regular activities (like printing materials, planning lessons, cooking food for the week, etc.) I’ve heard a statistic that it takes 20 minutes or more to re-focus when you switch tasks, so you can save a ton of time this way!

8) Make shorter to-do lists

I know that it sounds counter-intuitive to be telling yourself to do less work when you’re super busy and working more, but shorter lists help you prioritize what most needs to get done. You’ll probably actually achieve the same amount, and you’ll feel more in control and better about yourself because you get to the end of the list. I’m not usually very good at doing this, but I’ve been trying it this week, and I’m getting the essentials done, in a more relaxed fashion”

These two really hit home for me. If I have too many projects going and I try to get a little of each done in a day, I am much less successful than if I had dedicated more time to each. Of course, I still have days where task-switching happens, and I have to remind myself to set aside the biggest amount of time for the thing that needs the most attention. And also forgive myself if I didn’t also clean the bathroom.

Let’s Talk About Anxiety

“Notice that I said “get better”, not “cure my anxiety” – I have no illusions that being on medication cures the problem, and I know that this is a lifelong issue that I will always be prone to. If my life gets more stressful and/or I don’t keep up my healthy habits, I definitely feel it, and it’s a learning process of awareness that I have to commit to. I’m certainly not perfect, and I’m still prone to workaholic tendencies, as much as I try not to fall into that trap (that Midwestern farmer heritage dies hard, as does the stereotypical musician lifestyle). Lisa Congdon talks about her experience with workaholism and anxiety here, and I totally relate to all of her takeaways.

I felt my anxiety ramping up again this week, as I’m nearing spring break (starting after my concert tonight!) and have gotten a bit fried from a busy month, but I am MUCH more sensitive to the red flags of increased anxiety and impending burnout now (feeling crabby/unable to handle work/stressful situations as well as normal, heart racing, feeling fearful for no good reason, feeling exhausted rather than energized after a walk, etc.) So, I won’t let things get as bad as they did last year if I can help it.”

Balancing Rest and The Hustle

“There are a lot of factors to weigh: whether you’ll be able to rest more after the period of “hustle”, how healthy you’re feeling, whether additional stressors are present in your life right now, whether it’s a typically busy season, etc. When it comes down to it, is it worth it to you to give up rest, time with loved ones, hobbies, home-cooked meals, etc. in order to pursue your career goals? Or how much of that is okay to give up? And for how long at a time?

My work has always been really important to me, but I think that I have always swung too far to that side of the rest/work seesaw, at the expense of a lot of things, including my own health. So, even though I do struggle with it, I am committed to resting and recharging as a basic personal value, even if it means that I make a little less money, or that some of my goals take a little longer to achieve. After all, no one ever says “I wish that I had worked more” on their deathbed. I want my workload and lifestyle to feel sustainable (which is obviously going to be different for every person). ”

And the end of this post is as good a time as any to introduce you to Rebecca’s ‘Relaxation Mentor’ Rusty T Cat, a total good boy who knows how to help his human take a breath and rest.

What Rusty wants us to know is that it’s important to foster the relationships and social activities in our lives, even if it’s as simple as putting down the phone and scritching a kitty’s soft forehead for a bit.

Go, and read all of Rebecca’s writing!

New Theme for April: Teaching and Learning

Hi all, and welcome to April! It was a blast to spend the first three months of this year focusing on a particular topic and developing my website content around it, and so I’ve decided to carry on the theme!

In April, you’ll be seeing posts, links, and resources dedicated to teaching, teachers, and learning and educational theory. This could include a link to something new in music education, observations from my own lessons or experience, and spotlights on educators who inspire me.

Instead of doing a weekly Monday blog, I’m going to start a teaching ‘journal’, aka I’ll be posting in pseudo-real time about experiences I’ve had in lessons with my students during the week and my thoughts on what that means or what I have learned. I want to dive into my teaching philosophy and start to craft language around what I believe as an educator.

On Wednesdays look for the #TeacherFeature (a la #WomanCrushWednesday), in which I’ll highlight an educator who’s really making me think about best practices and making a difference.

Fridays will still be Challenges, so look for prompts on things related to your own educational and learning experiences.

And, fingers crossed, you should start seeing my new video series on brass tone & sound production, aimed at beginners but useful to all, popping up on YouTube this month!

I hope you enjoy the theme and its content this month! I’m off to start plotting my very first #TCT. 🙂

Women’s History Month: Mentoring the Next Generation

This month on the blog I’ve talked about communities of musicians that inspire me, methods to address bias you encounter on the job, profiled some of my favorite working musicians (in multiple genres), and ran challenges on my Facebook page asking you to think about your mentors and musical ancestors, and find your next performance repertoire piece from the database of women composers.  It’s been inspiring for me to think through these posts and present them to you, and I hope it’s been inspiring to read and digest.

Today, for the last essay of Women’s History Month, I want to talk about ways in which we, the musicians working and teaching today, can mentor the next generation of performers and educators to find their desire paths and build a diverse and welcoming musical world.

I have about 30 students, and I see countless others in clinics and performances. 10 of them are young women, high school students who in addition to playing trombone, baritone, and tuba, pursue an array of extracurriculars from track & field, hockey, badminton, Irish dance, ultimate frisbee, Nordic skiing, roller derby, and softball. They study languages like Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, and French, participate in debate teams, march for their rights, and have big plans for their future and their communities.

It’s my job as their guide not to make them the best brass players they can be, but help them realize how music affects their lives and how they can use their own gained skills to express themselves in new ways. Even if they wanted to pursue music as a career, the education they received from me would not be just refining their musical and instrumental skills, but how to develop holistic, healthy attitudes and routines toward their chosen goals.

That said, I’ve been thinking a lot lately (and really, over my whole career) about the myriad ways to encourage young women and men to be the best people in music they can be. I focus on amping up my female students because they have been historically given less opportunity and have farther to climb to find recognition and success, but I give no less of my time and expertise to my male students, in hopes that their attitudes, shaped by my teaching style and example, will offer a more welcoming environment for all performers.

Here are some things I challenge myself to do as a mentor to the low brass players of the next generation:

Match attitudes to actions

I am not perfect. I carry around socialized biases about the talents and abilities of women in my brain just like everyone else, and I have to constantly work to make sure I’m not letting certain ideas or opinions shape the way I treat or teach someone. When I meet a new student, I try to establish a good rapport with them that helps them trust me, and make sure I work to understand their particular educational needs. While I hold all my students to the same standard, it’s not what you might think. My standard is: do you enjoy making music, and are you making it as efficiently and effortlessly as you can? There will be differing levels of ability and commitment, but everyone is a musician. Full stop.

Authenticity is something we define for ourselves.

I also try to combat biases that my students may hold, or that they may encounter in their musical environments. Most of my lady students are pretty savvy- they know what’s out there- but I will help them or fight for them when I see an injustice. Sometimes that means showing them how they can address something that was said to them, or helping them prepare to perform like the boss they are to quash all the naysayers.

Encourage opportunities

All of my students are encouraged to pursue extracurricular musical opportunities, if they are interested and have time. I particularly want the girls in my studio to see the different ways they can make music outside of band. This includes, but is not limited to, auditioning for youth symphonies and honor bands, participating in solo and ensemble contests as well as our studio recitals, and forming their own groups and bands in which they can use the improvisational and ear training techniques I’ve taught them to create music they want to play.

Represent and SHOW UP

I’m living representation for my girl students: I perform, practice, educate, and overall walk the walk. I try to incorporate a diverse array of performers and leaders in the field as examples and role models. I  can also try to encourage my colleagues, male and female, to take steps to diversify what and how they teach so that all their students feel empowered and respected.

There are lots of national and local gatherings and conferences for musical performers, and low brass is no exception. These should be held responsible for providing diverse presenters so that all types of people see themselves represented on stage. And I don’t mean diversity just in terms of race and gender identity, either. It’s important to see the broad spectrum of ways people can be successful as musicians, whether it’s in a large symphony orchestra or freelancing gigging in one metropolitan area. Entrepreneurship and creativity should be celebrated as much as winning “the gig.”

Listen

Believe what your students say- about their experiences, their feelings, and their motivations. See them as whole, engaged humans with agency. Don’t talk over them or refuse to acknowledge what they say because you know better. Have conversations with them, give them pep talks, tell them it is okay to stumble and sometimes even better to fail. Teach them how to get back up and try again.

I have so much faith in this coming generation to change the world. Let’s all mentor them as best we can so they have all the tools to make the music scene the place it was always meant to be.

#WCW: Sitar Star Anoushka Shankar

Welcome to the first edition of #wcw (aka Woman Crush Wednesday) on my blog for Women’s History Month! I’m featuring  a musical artist every Wednesday who has inspired me and driven me to expand and develop my own art in new ways.

Those of you who know me personally will not be surprised by the first honoree. For the past month or so since discovering her music I have been absolutely immersed in it, listening to little else in favor of catching up on her back catalogue and live performances. So without further ado, please meet Anoushka Shankar!

Sitarist Anoushka Shankar performs at blueFROG Amphitheatre, in Pune on Friday. PTI Photo

You may recognize the family name, and the instrument: she is indeed the daughter of famous sitarist Ravi Shankar, who came to fame in the Western music scene through the influence of the Beatles in the 60s. Anoushka was born in London in 1981 and grew up between London, Delhi, and California. Her half-sister, Norah Jones, is also a musician.

[When I say “Woman Crush Wednesday” I really mean it here: Anoushka and I are the same age, and we both went to high school in San Diego, which means WE TOTALLY COULD HAVE BEEN FRIENDS AHHHH]

She began studying sitar with her father as teacher at age 7, and grew up performing with him on stage. By 17 she had released her first album, Anoushka, and others quickly followed. She became the first woman and the youngest-ever nominee for a Grammy in World Music in 2003.

In her recent career, Anoushka has blazed a trail through modern music, combining jazz, Western classical, flamenco, electronica, and pop with her Indian classical training. She frequently performs her father’s works as well as her own.

Right this minute, you should make some time to listen to her 2013 album, Traveller. 

Combining Indian classical traditions with Spanish flamenco, Traveller is built around the idea that flamenco may have had origins in India.

“In Indian music, we call it ‘spirituality,’ and in Spanish music, it’s ‘passion,'” Shankar says. “It’s really the same thing in both forms, that reaching at the deepest part of the human soul.” -Interview for the LA Times, April 21, 2012

I’ve been most captivated by her newest work, Land of Gold, dedicated to the victims and survivors of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and refugees from other embattled nations. Central to the compositions are women’s voices:

Separate from my desire to have an established core sound at the musical heart of this album, thematically, I wanted to integrate the authority of the female voice, and the drive for women to establish personal autonomy and dignity in situations where the female perspective is often, sometimes forcibly, subdued.  –Land of Gold album notes

Guest artists on the album include hip-hop artist M.I.A and actress & activist Vanessa Redgrave reading the poetry of Pavana Reddy.

Favorite tracks: Crossing the Rubicon, Remain the Sea]

More than anything what has drawn me to Anoushka Shankar in recent weeks is the pure passion and creativity with which she approaches her work. She sits comfortably on stage, brings her in collaborators with smiles and moments of shared groove, and invites the audience to feel the music with her- it is art and love and joy.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

[Shankar is touring the US this month & next: find her at the Big Ears Festival in Tennessee, playing Philip Glass with the Pacific Symphony in California and at Carnegie Hall in NY]

Black History Month Roundup

Here on the blog and over at my Facebook page, it’s been great fun exploring the dynamic and depth of music from African and its diaspora. As a roundup, today’s blog is a master post of all the things I’ve shared and you’ve shared with me!

On the blog

February- Black History Month 

A discussion about whether or not Justin Timberlake can adequately play homage to Prince, a man with whom he had a noted feud.

Black History Month: Getting Ready for Black Panther

Representation and music inspired by Black Panther- the Kendrick Lamar soundtrack; Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and current politics.

Black History Month: African Inspiration

Covering the score & soundtrack to Black Panther, and where the composer,  Ludwig Göransson, got his inspiration.

On Facebook

Thread– Your favorite musical artists of African heritage. Some shares:

Re: Donald Glover

Resources & Challenges:

Jazz & Its Feminist Future

Test Your Implicit Bias

What’s Your Magic? 

Coming in March: Women’s History Month!

Getting geared up to celebrate women in music (and in all things) in March. Stay tuned!

 

Black History Month: African Inspiration

Well, did you see it? Did you catch Black Panther on opening weekend?

I saw it on Saturday and I was blown away. By everything- the plot and the rich, human characters, the costumes, the scenery, the fights, the MUSIC, the message of hope and redemption. It was so tasty. I will see it again!

Last week I introduced you to Kendrick Lamar’s commercial soundtrack album for the film. Going in, I was really curious as to how the film score would draw from African sources. I knew the costumes were taken from various cultures, but I hadn’t heard much about the scoring.  Enter Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer who has worked with BP director Ryan Coogler before, as well as co-produced Childish Gambino albums with Donald Glover. He spent a month in Africa, soaking up as much as he could.

He tells Variety:

“I came back with a totally different idea of music, a different knowledge. The music that I discovered was so unique and special. [The challenge was] how do I use that as the foundation of the entire score, but with an orchestra and modern production techniques — infuse it in a way that it doesn’t lose its African authenticity?”

The result was a repertoire of leitmotifs and sounds from the music of Senegal that infuse the film with deeper, intrinsic meaning.

For T’Challa, Göransson used 6 talking drums (“tamas”- held under the arm and squeezed while hit to breathe and change tone) to signify the young king’s character and journey. His challengers for the throne matched the intensity with the sabar, a drum played between the legs.

You’ll also hear choirs singing in Xhosa, a Bantu language of South Africa, as well as the Senegalese artist Babaa Maal featured as Wakanda is revealed in the film.

The main antagonist of the film, Erik Killmonger, was represented musically by the fula flute, which Göransson describes as ‘sad but also aggressive, energetic and impulsive.’

Other instruments used include the kora harp and the vuvuzuela (which you’ll remember as the buzzing noisemaker we heard at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa).

Did you catch any other African-inspired sounds in Black Panther? How did you feel the film blended all its source material into the final product? Tell me in the comments!

January Topic Article: Why Music Matters

This month I’m thinking and writing on #whyImakemusic, and on Wednesdays I want to share articles and resources that have gotten me thinking about why music matters to me and how I can better share my vision with the community.

A recent article in the Atlantic highlighted how jazz musicians communicate through improvisation, unsurprisingly using the parts of their brains dedicated to speech and syntax. On top of that- music has no discernible semantic meaning the way that speech does, because it means something different to each listener. When two musicians are improvising back and forth, they are talking- but they’re sharing more than just words.

From the article:

“If the brain evolved for the purpose of speech, it’s odd that it evolved to a capacity way beyond speech,” Limb said. “So a brain that evolved to handle musical communication—there has to be a relationship between the two. I have reason to suspect that the auditory brain may have been designed to hear music and speech is a happy byproduct.”

So in a sense- why I make music, why you make music, why most cultures have developed musical systems, has more to do with communicating beyond our normal language abilities than just developing something pleasant to listen to. And whether you make music or simply curate a listening library of your own, you engage in musical activity that fires up an important center of your humanity.

I make music…because music makes me human.

January Topic: Why Music Matters

Happy New Year, all!

I’m always excited about the psychological fresh start a turn of the calendar brings, and 2018 is no exception. I’ve got big professional and personal goals for the year and am feeling energized to Get Stuff Done.

I’m using this blog post to introduce a new series. Each month, I’ll pick a theme or a subject to blog about, share resources and articles relating to that topic, and ask you to weigh in on your thoughts.

January is a good time to think about what’s important to you, and where you want to take it. So my question to you this month is: Why does music matter? What does it mean to you? How do you see the importance of music in your day to day life?

On Fridays, I’ll ask you to share your photo, post, or video online with the hashtag #whyimakemusic and link back to me so I know where to find it.

For me, music is communication. Sometimes I’m socially awkward, or feel shy around new people. When I play, I have a tool I can use that breaks down those barriers, gives me a construct for conversation, and helps me express myself to others. When I teach music, I feel like I am helping my students unlock their inner creativity and utilize those same tools to make their world a better and more open place. Music can change lives, music can change history.

I can’t wait to see why music matters to you.