Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tending my little garden

So I am following through, in my own way, on my decision to blog more, but on whatever I felt like.  Lately I've been really into plants and gardening.  I've always loved plants and trees, and when I first moved to LA, I started growing the little dollar bin flower pot Valentines from Target.   They had mini roses that I grew from seed, and they were my pride and joy.  I was thrilled by how they sprang from the ground as their own unique selves, absolutely unequivocally ROSES, complete with teeny tiny thorns and sweet little leaves.  They had adorable little blossoms, and I faithfully tended to them for several years, giving their care to helpful friends when I went out of town.  Here is a picture one such friend took to tease me:

Since then, I've been through several more dollar bin Valentine adventures.  I even grew a tomato plant from one that actually produced tomatoes–I was so excited to eat them!  Once a bassoonist friend introduced me to the idea of aqua globes, my world opened up.  I could have lots of plants, and travel (as I did frequently for work), and still have plants!  I started growing the little herbs from Trader Joe's (mostly basil but sometimes oregano, thyme, or sage).  I also finally went and got some plants at a proper nursery. We grew more tomatoes, and chili peppers too!  (They were tiny, adorable, and packed quite a punch).  Lavender and rosemary thrived, smelled wonderful, and their blossoms drew hummingbirds.  Geraniums added bursts of sunny color. I started expanding, adding more craigslist-acquired shelves to both my balcony and roof.  We added indoor plants (my maidenhair fern, Philomena, was my pride and joy.  She cheered me up every time I saw her).

Still, plants in pots seemed to have a lifespan that was shorter than I'd like.  Once you'd used enough basil from a potted plant, its leaves would grow back smaller and less flavorful.  My lavender and rosemary would grow too much for their own good, and just when they looked their biggest and best, they would become root-bound before I'd realized it and die off, despite my (too late) efforts to revive them.  Trips away still took their toll on the more delicate of the species (RIP Philomena).  And I came to a few realizations.

1)  Plants take a lot of time, and they need daily attention.  You have to catch pest problems and diseases early, or the bugs will take hold and you'll never be rid of them.  I've reluctantly found that once a plant has a problem, it's better to get rid of it so it doesn't spread the pest than to try to fix it, because the problem inevitably comes back.  And in order to prevent the problems from occurring in the first place, plants need CONSTANT VIGILANCE.

2) Every plant has its own preferences in terms of light and water, and the labels they come with only provide so much info.  You just need to see where the plant does best and how much water it wants based on its own reactions.

3) Herbs are healthiest when you use them, otherwise they grow too big for their pots and suffer.  So I've started using fresh herbs from my balcony on a daily basis, because they taste delicious and the plants are happiest when kept in check. 

4) I swear, they like it when you talk to them and tell them how beautiful they are.  I think plants are more social than we give them credit for.  Just read Hope Jahren's book, Lab Girl, and you'll see what I mean.  The New York Times also backs me up here:  So I try to talk to my plants daily.  I just redid my garden after some time away from home, and so far it is thriving.  That's because I've made a point to spend some time with my plants every day, both for their health and mine.  I find being around them makes me happy and relaxed. And it seems I am not alone.  Apparently, companies have started on a greening trend: . They call it "biophilia," and think it helps their employers to stay happy and productive. 

Just the other day, I was ecstatic to see that my redwood seeds, taken from a green redwood pine cone I picked up on a visit up to NorCal, has germinated.  Look! (he's in the center, green, and has yet to unfurl).  


Send him good thoughts, he has a lot of growing to do.  A few days later, he has unfurled and spread his little leaves.  We have named him Roosevelt (after a combination of Teddy, the found of the National Park System; FDR, the progressive; and Eleanor, the iconic First Lady.)  Rosie for short. If Rosie does well, he (or she) might become a lovely redwood bonsai. 


Bottom line: I love tending my garden, even if it is small and in containers around my home, balcony, and roof.  It genuinely improves my life, and I hope to learn more about gardening and plants.  

Monday, February 5, 2018

On College Auditions

Here is what I have gleaned from a scant 2 years of listening to college auditions.  I’m sure more experienced teachers will have lots more to say, and I probably will too after more years, but so far:

1) Be cautious when asking for special treatment regarding an audition time.  Requesting special treatment shows that you probably lack knowledge of how the professional classical music world functions, and it shows some disrespect for the teacher and the institution you are auditioning for. (Unless of course there is a direct conflict with audition day for another school).  For major symphonies, auditions are planned far in advance for a particular day.  You either make it to the audition that day or you don’t take the audition.  If you wake up with a bad cold that day, oh well, sucks for you, but that’s life. It’s not fair, but that’s how it is.  You pay your own travel expenses, and you work your schedule around it, so if your cousin is getting married the same the same day as the big audition, it’s either the wedding or the audition, no way around it.  So the professional musicians you are auditioning for don’t have a lot of patience for the excuses that you have to miss an audition date.  College audition dates are usually published months in advance, so you should plan your schedule accordingly.  It might be difficult for you to travel to the audition location, but chances are that someone is coming from further than you are.  And remember, once you are a professional musician, you are responsible for getting yourself to auditions on your own dime, so get used to it.  Of the candidates who asked me for special treatment regarding auditions, most (but not all) either had no business being a performance major or they weren’t really that serious about joining my studio.  When it comes down to it, asking for a special audition time implies that your time is more important than that of the person or people you are auditioning for, or that of the other candidates.  Obviously, sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, but you are better off sticking to the audition schedule than asking for special treatment.

2)  Know a little bit about the pieces you are playing for your audition.  You should be able to tell me a little bit about the composer (like when and where they lived) and the piece (like when it was written, for what audience or musicians, and what style/time period).  You should also, obviously, know the correct tempo to play it in, and of course play the correct rhythm, notes, and dynamics.  Although it is generally better to play a piece slightly under tempo and accurately than to play it the tempo it’s marked, but poorly, you should attempt to play the piece close to its tempo marking and not significantly slower.  You’d be better off playing a piece that you know very well up to tempo than a newer piece too slowly. In addition, was your piece originally written for oboe?  Is it part of the standard literature?  Does it fit the audition requirements listed for the school?  These are all important considerations.

3)  Know a little about the person and school you are auditioning for.  In the days of Google, it is inexcusable not to do a little online research before you play for someone.  What schools did they attend?  What professional experience do they have? What does that tell you about what they might expect from you?  Does the program you are auditioning for suit your educational goals?  Why are you auditioning for them?  For example, if you would prefer to major in music education and not performance, auditioning for a performance degree might not be the best option for you,  and you should make sure the school offers an education major.  Are you hoping for a major orchestral career?  Choose a school with a good orchestra to play in, not one with a chamber music focus. Or vice versa:  if you want to have a chamber music career, choose a school with strong chamber music faculty and requirements, rather than one that focuses on its orchestral program. 

4) Most audition candidates were already prepared for the other obvious advice: dress nicely, show up on time, behave respectfully.  Perhaps this is because that advice applies to any interview and not just an audition.  However, I would offer some advice on a much more basic level.  Are you sure you want to pursue a music performance degree, and that you are prepared to do so?  This degree has very specific requirements, and the field is extremely competitive.  Do some research on what it takes to, say, play in the LA Phil.  I like to compare it to major league sports.  Do you think someone who wants to play professional basketball has a chance of doing so if they’ve never played on a team before college?  The same applies to an aspiring musician:  you just will not be competitive in the field if you’ve never played in an orchestra or had any lessons on your instrument before you arrive in college.  This is not to say that you cannot still make a career out of music, but it will not be in the LA Phil.  And it will be difficult, and require a lot of hard work and sacrifice.  In America, we like to think that you can do anything with hard work.  To a certain extent, this is true.  But there is such a thing as starting too late to actually be competitive in an extremely difficult field.  So, I am the bearer of bad news:  It is unrealistic to hope for a career in a major orchestra if you have never had a lesson or played in an orchestra and you are 17 years old.  You will be competing with people who already have more than 10 years of experience than you.  This setback is extremely difficult to overcome.  Like a career in sports, you might find opportunities teaching or coaching and you might even make it to the minor leagues, but the majors are, realistically, unattainable.  Job opportunities in music are generally very few.  In our culture, because of the prevalence of sports, most people realize that they have no chance of playing pro basketball if they haven’t at least played on their school’s varsity team.  But because many of us have no contact with high-level classical music, we don’t have any idea of what it actually takes to get there.  I’d really like to address the band & orchestra directors out there.  As a music educator, I completely understand that you want to encourage your students’ appreciation and enjoyment of music.  But please talk to your students about the realities of a career in classical music before encouraging them to audition for a performance degree. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

I 💚 Jerry Brown and I 💚 California.

Also, this:


Well, clearly I have not followed through very strongly on my goals to blog more this year. I tried at first to stay positive, to find common ground. But as things have gotten worse and worse, I gave up on that. Instead, I am trying to just stay up, and not let the world's events get me down. Sometimes that just means staying in a little bubble for a bit. Other times, it means figuring out how to fight back.

Because in 2018, it's time to fight back. On environmental lines, on feminist lines, on economic lines. I'm not sure how music figures in, to be honest. For me, it might mean more chamber music, and being proactive in creating opportunities for myself to make music with friends I enjoy playing with and playing repertoire that I love, instead of just taking what is dished out to me. I think it also means expanding my involvement in the community beyond music, and in civic life. This past week, in which SoCal has been plagued by fire, has been strange. Much of my work has been canceled or postponed. So I finally have enough energy and creative juice to write, but I find myself with too much on my mind to focus on any one thing. So, here are some goals I'd like to set for myself in 2018:

1) Be more environmentally aware: recycle more carefully, use less water, take the car less, and try to find a way to compost.
2) Get involved in the community more: I'd like to go to some neighborhood council meetings, and participate in local events more.
3) Be more active in foiling the current administrations efforts to destroy this democracy: protest more, contact members of congress more, volunteer for organizations like the Giffords Law Center, the Union of Concerned Scientists,  and the Tree People
4) Keep my country moving forward by speaking up and voting:  about injustices like rampant sexism, unfair tax laws, uneven education, insane housing costs, and environmental injustice.

I'm writing this here to help me stay on track.  I hope now that 2017 is mostly done with, I will be able to follow through in 2018!!!

In the mean time, to help deal with 2017, here is a silly video to keep spirits up. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

What Does the Fox Say?

This came up on facebook, and it made me laugh just as much as the first time I saw it. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reflections on rejection

"Why is it so important that we all be humiliated, with such ingenuity and at such great expense?  We never thought we were such hot stuff in the first place."
–Kurt Vonnegut