Start of Summer

These past weeks have been a mix of relaxation and work-- the new house is mostly set up, though I've been dragging my feet about putting the finishing touches on the place. Other than two small boxes and some art that still needs to be hung, the new house is great! It already feels like home, and I am very happy here. Even Tula has adjusted to the new digs. I've been doing a little yard work (very minimal-- trying to grow some grass in the back) and finally have had time to start going through old files. I found a jury summons from 2001. Yup:  Definitely overdue for some serious Spring cleaning!

It was very nice to have some time off after the end of the semester, though I am happy the first Summer Session began this week. I only have 3 students this summer, but it's enough to get me out of the house and get my thinking cap on. I am one of those people who, when faced with oodles of free time, manage to get almost nothing done. So having a light schedule this summer is nice. I get to relax and sleep, but also to practice and work.

Next week is the first of two Summer Chamber Music Festival concerts. I will perform selections from Bruch's Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano with my friends and colleagues Libby Crawford and Lori Rhoden. We met today for a rough read-through, and that was fun. Playing music with friends is so wonderful! We'll meet again on Thursday and start working more seriously on the repertoire. It's beautiful and fun music, and one day I hope to program the entire eight-movement piece. 

Happy lazy summer practicing!

Angela's Recital

It has been a very bizarre last few weeks. An unfortunate situation at our rental home forced us to find a new home and move in a very short amount of time. But James, Tula, and I are settling in to our new home and are grateful to be leaving the drama of the old home behind us. I am happy in our new house, though it is still a completely disheveled mess! It did not have a fence, but our new property manager gave us permission to install a temporary fence, which I did today. We also installed a doggie door for Tula, so now she has access to outside without the possibility of her wandering off. I know she likes the freedom of being inside or out!

And all of this happened during the last weeks of classes! Needless to say, it's been a stressful few weeks. A highlight, however, has been my Master's student Angela, who just performed her recital. I am so proud of the work she did this year. It was a challenging program, and her performance tonight was the best I'd heard from her. Yay Angela!

Happy practicing!

Head Space

There's been a lot going on in my non-musical world lately, that keeps creeping into my mind while I'm trying to practice and focus on my music. This is something from which I imagine a lot of musicians suffer. But how to silence the mind so as to focus on the task at hand?

I was actually practicing just a few minutes ago, feeling incredibly distracted by a recent non-musical development, and found myself going on autopilot, just playing a scale because that's how I warm up. I was half-heartedly listening to my shifts and bow changes and tone, but mostly I was thinking about the unrelated situation. Then I suddenly realized that I really didn't know what I was doing with my instrument. And now here I am, blogging.

Often times I will keep a piece of paper near my practice space, with a pen or pencil, and whenever I experience a distracting, non-musical thought, I'll write it down on the paper. In this way, I won't have to worry about forgetting it, and I don't have to take care of the thing immediately either, giving me the freedom to go back to focusing on my practicing. This works really well most of the time. But when there's a big pressing issue that doesn't have a clear solution or can be addressed with a simple email, as is currently on my mind, coping mechanisms must be different.

So here's what I did: I stopped what I was doing, put down my viola, took a few deep breaths and agreed with myself to put aside this issue for the duration of my practice session. (I believe the short meditation sessions I recently added to my regular day helped me do this). Then I chose a scale I haven't played in a while, with a different finger pattern than I usually use, and worked on that. Playing something that was "unusual" forced me to pay closer attention to what I was doing, which helped focus my mind on the task at hand. Then I added another layer of complexity, by playing unusual bowing patterns. Basically, I forced myself out of my regular routine, which got my mind incredibly engaged in what I was doing.

Then I was so inspired by what had just happened that I simply HAD to blog about it! So while my practice time is not being used to practice currently, I feel like I came up with a pretty darn good solution to the problem that truly was most pressing: not focusing on my playing when I was playing. And now that I've written it all down, I feel inspired to get back to viola and work, because I know the outside issue cannot be resolved by my mulling over it while I need to focus on my recital repertoire. That's a lot more fun than the other issue, anyway. :-)

Happy practicing!


As I mentioned in my last blog post, this semester started off strangely. Things have settled down into a more-or-less regular routine at work, and yet, I still feel unsettled. I've been reading a book, "The Happiness Project," by Gretchen Rubin, which is inspiring me to look at my habits and tendencies, and to try to find a little more happiness in life by making simple changes. But the problem is, I don't know where to begin. There always seem to be an unsurmountable number of little tasks that need to get done. None of them are especially difficult, but they are time consuming, and I just don't want to do them. For example-- at the start of the winter break, I edited a whole bunch of videos from my October recital, posted them to my website, and was really happy to have made a dent in the project. But I still haven't finished, and now I JUST don't want to. So I wrote it on my white board as something that needs to get done, and every time I sit down at my desk that task (along with all the rest) stares at me. There are 11 tasks on my white board-- only 5 have been completed... and one has been there since August! Sigh.

Plus I haven't been practicing regularly. It's one of the things I love to do most, and yet, it always gets pushed behind things that MUST get done. Projects with deadlines, paperwork, emails, dirty dishes, etc. have all taken precedence over what I love. Due to the wacky start of the semester, none of my students were ready to play in Studio class on Wednesday. We sat around talking for a few minutes, and someone suggested that I play. So I did... but I was less than pleased with my performance, and frankly, embarrassed to play for my students at a level below my personal standards. 

It's been the same thing with exercise. I finally went for a run again a few days ago (and it felt GREAT!), but now it's been so cold and slippery, I don't want to go out again. Thankfully I'm meeting a friend at the gym tomorrow. I'm hoping just getting myself over there will be the inspiration I need to go back? We'll see.

I don't generally blog about such things, but I'm hoping that by "putting it out there" I'll persuade myself to take care of some of these nagging tasks, and find some semblance of balance between work and home life. I know that I'm happier when I'm regularly practicing and exercising... so now it's just a matter of finding the time to make that happen.

How do you find balance?

2014, The Year of the Viola

... According to Berlin! Well, actually it's "Instrument of the Year 2014," but close enough. :) So how have I begun this wonderful year dedicated to violas? On vacation! James, Tula, and I went to Colorado for the holidays, where we stayed with family and enjoyed a lot of down time. I ate too much, slept a lot, and didn't practice as much as I wanted to. It's hard for me to make time to work when there are all kinds of cousins and other family to hang out with, not to mention amazing hikes to take! But we're back in Indiana now, and the semester is off to an interesting start. We had a massive snow storm on Sunday that dumped 10 inches of snow. I hurt my back shoveling (sheesh), though now it feels fine again. The first two days of classes at Ball State were cancelled due to snow and frigid temperatures (the high of -11 F on Monday and Tuesday was... very very cold) and yesterday started out with some news from a student that left me very sad.

On the upside, I have two new freshman this semester who transferred from other institutions, and the Ball State Viola Choir (BSUVC) is up and running! We had our inaugural rehearsal yesterday, to which Dr. Eleanor Trawick came. Eleanor is on the theory/composition faculty, and is also a violist. I commissioned her to compose an anthem for the BSUVC, and it is beyond wonderful. Reading through the lyrics she wrote (they are AMAZING) and the fantastic score left me completely giddy. I'm smiling like a banshee just thinking about it now! I'm really looking forward to sharing this gem with the BSU community. It's really fantastic. Not only do we have an anthem (!!!), but I'll be holding a logo contest soon, and then will be able to make some BSUVC paraphernalia. Fun fun fun! The best part is-- the SOUND! Now, it might sound cheesy, but I truly love the sound of the viola (small wonder I'm a violist, eh?), and multiple violas in harmony, unfettered by the sounds of other instruments, is a warm and really gorgeous sound. I'm so excited about cultivating and coaching this group of viola players.

So while the year is off to a start of wintry weather and mixed emotions, I am, nevertheless, excited about the possibilities this viola-centric year will bring. 

Happy practicing!