Monday, November 14, 2011

Taking Care

OK, my students tell me that I should get 8 hours sleep and drink 1-3 litres of water per day and eat properly.  I am going to try it for ONE DAY and report back.  Have to go to bed now.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Musical Growth

I constantly search for ways to grow musically... well, I hardly need to search since the
areas of interest are endless and there is a constant need to develop skills.  
Though I long to get to work, other work is endless and the need to make money is a constant worry.
Yet sometimes I get to forget all of this... the moment I step onto stage I get to launch into the best world imaginable. 
And tomorrow, I have an equal pleasure awaiting me... I get to hear a wonderful student of mine, Bianca Chambul,  perform the Mozart Concerto with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, conducted by Alain Trudel.  I listened to her dress rehearsal last week and marveled at the new cadenzas and inventions that have come from her young mind.  Just 17 years old and she is playing in a way that lifts my heart and spirit beyond all material care.
This is an aspect of musical growth that I did not know about when I started my career 30 years ago... the deep joy of watching a true talent unfold in front of me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


My dream life is full of concerts, recitals, concerti, masterclasses, teaching, recording, traveling.
My real life has all of these things in various quatities.
Yet I am always busy because there is always something that can be done to support this vision.  And by doing 
One of the best features of my life is daily contact with students who trust me enough to ask questions that I cannot answer yet I continue to try.  And I am so comforted by their questions because I recognize their searching and doubts.  And I feel paradoxically motivated to keep trying when it sometimes seems possible that all of my ambitions might not be fulfilled.
Today began with struggling to upload the videos from my iPhone that I took on Wednesday night of Bianca’s dress rehearsal of the Mozart Concerto with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra conducted by Alain Trudel.  She has written her own cadenzas and is improvising little ausgangs... really a joy to hear.  I promised to get the videos to her so she could listen before the concert on Sunday and it taking me forever to figure out, but I am slowly getting it done.
Then on the top floor of the Conservatory to start another day of teaching.  I have one student who is keenly interested in new music, is also shaking his head at how hard it is to practise and still stay on top of all the course work, wondering how it will all help him be a better performer and musician.  I say that I don’t know except that the questions will trigger an artistic response at some point.  And I said that scale work can be done in brief spots of time and that challenging patterns will, over time, weave an understanding of tone and distances, how it all adds up more effectively than if we wait until there is a clear block of time.  He also told me that he is recording the sounds on the subway everyday during his 14’ ride to school with the idea of creating a piece eventually... he said that the alarming realization struck him recently that the subway cars are oddly bereft of human conversation... hundreds of people sitting in close proximity, whisked to and from work/school/etc and never speaking.  Neil said that the sound of two teenaged girls talking broke the silence one day.
The hour was up, and in trooped five Conservatory bassoonists for our first Orchestral Lit class (I have just taken over the class from Michael Sweeney).  My ideas include having each student lead the class, presenting two standard excerpts and speaking in depth about his process for understanding and practising the elements, followed by a rendition of each excerpt.  I am asking each student to mark his (they are all men) presentation.   We are in the process creating a ‘chart of virtues’ (see previous post) which will define our goals and ambitions for these excerpts.  Adam Romey gave an animated account of his process and research for Tchaik IV and Marriage of Figaro.  Then I spoke about my point of view of each excerpt, then each player presented a version, then the two hours were gone!
I sat with the students while I ate lunch then I walked over to one of the satellite buildings for the University of Toronto.  I bumped into my next student on the way and we talked non stop about how to keep working in the face of doubt and dismay over one’s own performance.  Again, I had few answers but felt such a wave of recognition and comfort, as if this expression of doubt on the part of my student were an absolutely necessary initiation into the world of classical music.  We continued the discussion as
we worked on the top floor of the old, reclaimed residence that is being used for practise and teaching rooms now that the student body is outgrowing the Edward Johnson Building.
Then we walked back to the Conservatory, got a key, and went into the depths of the basement where the Reed Room is, next to the offices of the janitorial staff.  We crammed into the little room, full of bassoons and bassoonists, to clip the tip of Jeff’s reed and talk a bit about the nature of very wide reeds (another discussion!).  Then another Neil came for a reed lesson and I showed him refinements in my hand profiling methods.  Reed making ideally requires a constant mentor, yet I trust always that moments of insight combined with the searching nature of each player will lead to a complete skill over time.  It is a quiet skill too, involving so much looking and crafting before there is any hope of a sound!  The quiet, still room with no windows almost put me to sleep, but Neil kept asking questions and revived me!
Then I drove to pick up my son from choir practise, gathering groceries and talking at length with my student Adam, who had recently come to many insights about trust, including the profound one that  the performer must trust himself before the leap can be made to new knowledge or collaboration.
What we do every day matters.  We can trust that we will succeed if we apply that trust to our own ambitions and efforts.  And the trust of my students is one of the unbelievably valuable gifts of my existence.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chart of Virtues and Enjoying Failure

Chart of Virtues and Enjoying Failure
Reading a lovely book by Gretchen Rubin (Collins) called The Happiness Project.  Despite having an outwardly pleasant, picture-perfect existence, she felt life was whooshing by without being sure she was living to the fullest.  She spent a year studying happiness and the result is fascinating.  I don’t agree with all of it yet as I continue to read, I can see that she is not seeking an untroubled life, but rather, a conscious one.
She created a chart of virtues under the premise that doing a small thing every day is better than doing a big thing once in awhile.  She took a long time to define her virtues and then it became a chart that reminded her of these things every day. 
I believe in this too.  As I strive to build a solo career that will both challenge and sustain me, there are sometimes long periods between concerts.  I find this very hard since the real life of the music lies in making it ring out in a room full of people!  This is when I remember that every effort can still be directed towards supporting that reality... 15 minutes spent on a tricky corner of a concerto can be essential preparation for a concert that is happening a year from now...organizing string parts for Vivaldi concerti can save hours of panic when it comes time to present these works in different places... having a suitcase that is in good shape and an up-to-date passport makes it that much easier to get on a plane when the opportunity arises.  And stopping all of these things so that I can get to bed before dawn also supports the goal of being on stage in full strength... this is very hard for me to remember!  
Enjoying failure... now there’s a lovely thought!  Every time we step onto stage or in the public forum in anyway, we run the risk of making mistakes and failing.  It is simply the price of worthwhile life.  Mistakes reveal passion, and as Ms Rubin says, it is part of being creative and ambitious.  The trick is to forgive ourselves and keep trying, never to retreat into silence. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Little Braun CD Launch

Little Braun Blog 
The 24 Solos (1740) by Jean-Daniel Braun is officially launched!  Two days ago!
On October 30, 2011.  It is now available for purchase on my website --- just in time for Christmas!
This particular project is what got me started on the blog in the first place and it is funny that I was too busy during the days leading up to the launch to even consider writing.
The preparation for any self-presented concert requires three things in addition to reeds, music, practise:
  1. Complete attention to detail (even if you miss something, you will better remember it next time!)
  2. Genius, thinking-for-themselves assistants
  3. Support
On the day of the launch, two of my top students also had important stuff going on... Winner of the 2010 TSYO Concerto Competition,  Bianca was at the University of Toronto, in her first playing-from-memory-rehearsal of the Mozart Concerto with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra.  Later she reported that it went very well once she got past the initial flutter of nerves.  I simply could not attend because one of my senior students at the Glenn Gould School was having his recital at the same time.  Adam played with a level of refinement that was inspiring, reminding me of my early experiences in Philadelphia and hearing the seamless, warm, flexible sounds of the bassoonists raised under the wing of the Philadelphia orchestra.  When that was over, one of my recital partners (Dr Cecilia Lee) and another of my senior students (best-admin-assistant-ever-Neil Bishop) helped me bring in food, flowers and CDs from my distantly-parked car.  Neil worked to clean up the reception area and set up all the CDs and price lists, then Guy Few arrived and set up the food table:  my little idea was to have lunch foods and a pile of brown paper lunch bags that had “Little Braun Bag” written on each of them.  Then a graduate student (Susan) arrived to help put up signs around the slightly bewildering complex that is the Glenn Gould School of Music.  Then my oldest friend in the world, Leslie, arrived and volunteered to help sell CDs.  The videographer arrived and then it was time to get dressed... my newest gown by Jessica Biffi still requires the expert bodice-lacing technique of my stage partner Guy Few, so luckily he was on this programme!  I did want to test my reeds one last time since the programme ranged from the unaccompanied Braun Solos to Marcel Bitsch to Mignone, but by this time, the audience had started to flow in.  I had expected a small crowd, but people kept coming... my managers arrived (Andrew Kwan and Erin Sparks), then old friends, then students, composers, parents of students, then  miracle of miracles, people I didn’t even know!!    My manager, familiar with the building, began slinging chairs, aided by Neil.  The concert began and I dived in, first with the solos, then with the Concertini by Bitsch, Lachner and Mignone... my first time out with the glorious, fiery pianist Young-Ah Bang.  I had a great time playing yet was a touch nervous;  it wasn't until I listened to the videos later that I realized I sounded better than I imagined(feared).
Anyway, the energy was incredible, the support and thoughtfulness of my friends was incredible, the excitement of the visiting students was so touching.  I am feeling very lucky today.  All musicians need support and once we have it, the music can really start to flow.  I will write more this week and post the video clips.