I spent all day yesterday training new Teaching Artists for Lincoln Center’s quickly expanding Education department.  I am so thankful to have been using this particular method of pedagogy for the past 15 years, because if I had not been employing these strategies on a regular basis, I would not be performing and composing as much as I am right now.

For example:

So much of my conservatory education was built around lessons, coachings, and orchestra rehearsals where I was being told what to do.   Very seldom was I ever asked to reflect on what I just did, or what inspired me, how my skills should improve, what steps I should take, and what I really needed to meet my artistic needs.

I was just told.

Some things were great nuggets of wisdom delivered with tact and encouragement.

Some things were the polar opposite of nurturing.

Since graduating, I have been working as a freelance Teaching Artist for Lincoln Center – whose pedagogy is decidedly different.   When we work with students, we set up experiential situations where they get their hands dirty making art (whether it is a piece of music, a dance, or a skit).  They regularly stand back and notice what they and others have created.  They are encouraged to revise, and invited to question – therefore really owning their artistic endeavors from the get-go.    Some people might argue that intense skills-based learning can’t come out of that, but I have seen and experienced quite the contrary.

Reflection is key to making progress while practicing, creating, or building a career.  When a person empowers themselves with the tool of reflection, everything improves.  Knowledge is power, no matter how uncomfortable that knowledge is.

However, it is not just the acknowledgment of certain information that will help propel you forward; it has to be coupled with intrinsic motivation – an authentic desire from within to create change or to forge a particular path.

Here is a non-musical example:

I spent most of my childhood and 20’s being 20-60 pounds overweight.   I was told all the time how I looked and what I should do about it – by parents, family members, doctors, bullies, and even a randomly mean truck driver rolling through an intersection.   But, being told was not doing a damn thing to permanently change my path.   Fear can be a great motivator, but even that was not effective.  It was not until I decided that it was a hindrance to being the person I wanted to be that I acknowledged what I needed to learn, planned the steps that needed to be taken, instigated change, and created a particular path.

In music (or any art form for that matter) talent, knowledge, and potential are useless unless the artist is:

1)      Propelled forward by true intrinsic motivation

2)      Regularly reflecting on which specific talents and skills are unique to them, while developing new skills that help strengthen the presentation of these talents

3)      Regularly reflecting on the value their art can bring to society, and exploring the many different contexts where their art can be experienced, and

4)      Adapting the mindset of a life-long learner, by learning and creating new strategies that enable all members of society to engage with their art successfully.

These things cannot happen without time being set aside for them.  Individually, we need to write this stuff down.  Collaboratively, we need to make time to brainstorm with others: teachers and students; musicians and dancers; composers and actors…people inspiring people.

So, here is a challenge for you (and me):

How often do you reflect?

Can you set aside regular times where you reflect on:

  • Who and what inspires you?  What specifically?
  • How does your art serve those around you? What steps could you be taking?
  • How does your art serve your personal needs?
  • Are they being met? What steps are you taking to meet them?
  • What events led you to this point?  Which were intentional and which were serendipitous?
  • What is working? What is not working?
  • Who is in your current network? How are you supporting them?
  • Who should be in your network? What steps are you taking to connect to them?
  • What do you still need to learn?
  • Who around you can hold you accountable?

Without taking the time to notice deeply what is going on within us and around us, our artistic potential may never be reached – and our true gifts will sit, with the wrapping paper still on, getting dusty in the corner of the room.



For this blog entry, I invited “gypsy freelance oboist” and fellow kindred spirit Keve Wilson to give her thoughts on knowing when to put the damn phone down and talk with those around you, and – conversely – knowing how to properly introduce yourself when you pick it back up and use it to make an actual phone call.   Furthermore, without risk there is no gain…so who can you reach out to today? 


 Image“If you make a mistake, will you be given a second chance?”

This was a question I got recently after giving my talk “So you want to be a Freelance Musician?” at Fredonia University. I’ve given this class to numerous music majors at Conservatories and music schools and every time I learn something else that needs to be taught.



And that question reminded me of the reality that every time you get booked as a freelance musician – whether as a soloist, for a string quartet or in an orchestra – it is a type of audition for that next job. Your colleagues sitting next to you are your ticket to your next job. Just last night I got an email from a composer to record for his film project and he got my name from a clarinetist I worked with over two years ago on a new music concert. Never in a million years could I have guessed this is really how it works when I was in college. I always knew I wanted to be a freelancer, from the time I studied at Manhattan Prep on Saturdays with freelance oboist Matt Sullivan. I’ve been able to piece together a career as a “gypsy freelance oboist” for over 20 years both in New York City and Los Angeles where I lived for six years.

But plenty of mistakes were made…and yes, I was given a second, third and fourth chance.

The main focus of my class remains rooted in what I learned early on, but am still reminded of daily; the more people you interact with, the “luckier” you will be.  We must know how to “get work” after we graduate, and auditioning for orchestras is only one small part of a professional musician’s life, however, it is all we think about in that college practice room. But knowing how to introduce yourself, get along with others in an ensemble setting or even in an elevator, it’s all part of how you will be able to support yourself in the future. And how to write an email or make a phone call…sounds simple and yet can make or break you.

The skills a musician needs include far more than just being able to play your instrument, although that is a given. But do you know how to craft an email to someone who may be in a position to recommend you for work? Can you pick up the phone and introduce yourself without sounding insecure or even worse, immature or ill-prepared? Can you sit in the front seat of a carpool and resist texting so that you can have a conversation with the driver, who may be in a position to recommend you for a future job?

 In a phone call, you can get a personal sense of someone’s warmth, accessibility, character, and general likeability.  An email proves more difficult in conveying a tone.  And actually, if you have a quirky way of signing off —“xo keve” or “Take Care, KXW” or something that is less than professional, the wrong impression can be left…which is exactly what you don’t want.  A phone call is much more direct and creates a personal connection with whom you are trying to impress and connect.

The first connection you need to make is to that person you share in common. In a phone call or email, begin by introducing yourself by full name and then immediately say whom you share in common. “Hi Keve, my name is Sheri Oboe, and Jack Clarinet recommended I call you when I move to NYC. He sends his best and I was hoping I could meet you over coffee when your schedule permits.”  Keep it short and to the point and always be mindful of your recipient’s time. I recently received a beautiful written email by a colleague interested in subbing in the Broadway show I just started. She introduced herself, said who suggested she write to me (our mutually shared oboe-repair person,) mentioned the shows she has played, and then added the important line—“I know you have debts to repay when playing a Broadway show and you have some subs already lined up, but should you need someone new or extra, I hope you’ll keep me in mind.” Brilliantly stated, to the point, honest and with respect to the fact that I obviously have oboists who’ve helped me over the years that I need to hire first. She demonstrated her knowledge of the business and that made her email standout in my mind.

Find a reason to contact someone. Practice crafting an email or phone call with a friend. See if you can introduce yourself in a friendly and forward manner. It sounds simple until the time comes for you to actually do this, and then the brain-freezes, your speech stumbles and you find yourself thinking, ‘wow, I sounded stupid.’

And one of my mistakes? Ok, I’ll share one. A few years ago I was heading to LA for work and I emailed a contractor I knew well and had a good relationship with, as we were friends when I lived there. I asked if he could hire me for work, as I would be in LA for two weeks. His response was this:

“Keve, I never hear from you unless you want something from me. I’m happy you’re coming to LA to work, but please don’t email me just when you want something from me. How about staying in touch as friends too?”

Needless to say, I was humbled and learned quickly that people in power are just human. If they constantly only receive inquiries regarding work they will get tired. I should have stayed in touch with him because he was my friend, not just because he could get me work.

Lesson learned. 

DIRECTIONS FOR HOW TO BE AN ARTIST in the 21st CENTURY: Connect, Communicate, Collaborate….repeat

It has been a very long time since I blogged last, but – as the saying goes – better late than never!

While presenting Networking 101 at the Chamber Music America Conference back in January, I was able to catch some other panel discussions.  Even I was struck by how in every single one, someone mentioned how important relationships are.

In a panel about women composers and their inclusion/exclusion throughout classical music history, Limor Tomer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s concert series put it very simply, yet effectively:

It’s not that the men who are in charge of making these programming choices are purposely not selecting women, it’s just their network is so tightly wound around those they went to school with: the people you connected with during your school years greatly affect your career trajectory.  For them, those were mostly other male composers.

Panels of managers were saying the same thing:

Success depends a lot on how well performers and managers communicate with each other, AND with those they meet while at each particular concert venue.  When these things break down, relationships  fall apart and future performances are affected.

The same goes for how we communicate with our audiences – whether it is from the stage, through our programming, or how we market ourselves to them.

I have seen firsthand over many years the dramatic shift in how audiences relate to live music – especially classical music.  The only way live performances of works in the classical tradition can survive the 21st Century is if every composer and every musician becomes armed with the skills that allow them to authentically grow and connect with their audiences. But, to do that, they have to first learn how to genuinely connect with each other and build successful collaborations.

Tomorrow evening I will hop on a plane to Portland, Oregon to perform some of my music and lead a Networking 101 for The Composer Project.  This week-long mini-festival is exactly the kind of program each community should be doing to empower local artists to go forth and work together so everyone can benefit from meaningful interactions with art.

Because no matter who you are, or where you are…it’s better late than never.Image


I first met composer Robert Karpay when I played his Piano Quartet a few years ago.   He was diligent in sending me more pieces in hopes that counter)induction would play them – and one day we were in need of such a piece.  Since then, we have become good friends and collaborators.  Last year he took a year off between his BM and MM degrees – a tricky maneuver for anyone, but he learned a lot.  Going back to school after time in the “real world” certainly gives perspective, and I hope many students can learn a little from what he has to say.

In May 2011, I finished my undergrad at MSM. It was a 4-year program that flew by faster than anyone said it would. While there, I met tons of great musicians-most of whom I see all over the city playing shows and recording CDs and, just in general, getting stuff done.

Instead of going on to grad school, I decided to take a year off and see what life outside of school would be like after 20 years. At first, it was a like a mid-life crisis (I mean, assuming I die at 44) and a long overdue vacation all at the same time. I crashed on my best friend’s couch for a while trying to figure stuff out. I traveled between Baltimore and NYC almost every week because I had a few teaching internships that overlapped. I also played in a band that had shows just about every weekend and practiced even more than that.

Life was simultaneously awesome and horrifying.

After September rolled around, I began to realize that I needed to be back in school. I started applying and got a couple of pieces recorded. By the end of July I knew I wouldn’t have time to write if I was in school while playing in a band and teaching. So I quit the band and cut down on my teaching schedule. After several months of trial and error in terms of experimenting with when I composed best, I found my sweet spot.

In the spring, I was accepted to graduate school, and I’m currently in my third month of first semester. There are a lot of things about being in a school that made me realize how difficult it is to do what you want to do out in the real world. Once you’re on your own, you have to make your own resources – in terms of, let’s say, “how the **** am I going to get this piece performed?”

Now that I’m back, I have a list of things I want to do while I’m in school. Some of these things are just goals of mine, and some of them are things that will hopefully give me a little push once I’m out of school.

1) If I have an idea for something, a piece, an orchestration, whatever…just write a little section, get the players, and record it.

2) Meet as many people as I can…at concerts (in and out of school), and introduce myself at classes.

3) …AND stay in touch with them.   During my undergrad I would usually justify not going to recitals and concerts by saying I had too much work to do.  This was a mistake.

4) Always ask myself how something in a class I’m taking (even if it seems totally useless) can be used to better myself.  You never know what could be a marketable skill for the future.

5) Practice making earlier deadlines for myself than are required (for small assignments, a few days in advance; for big assignments, a week in advance; for pieces, 2 weeks in advance).   That way I will always have room for “error”, or “real life”…which is inevitable.

6)  Spend more time studying scores, which is SO hard to find time for when I’m not in school – plus, I have access to the library.

7) Take private lessons on an instrument that I know I’m going to use for teaching (*cough*)….like piano.

8) Hear as much live music as possible.   Notice I did not say “go to as many concerts as possible”.   If I want to hear how something sounds, I should go find musicians who are playing the piece in question and hear them rehearse it.

9) Take as much advantage as possible of the facilities I have access to (recording equipment, studios, practice rooms, pianos, you name it!).

10) AND, while doing all of these things at school, make sure to still go to stuff outside of school.

I try to follow this list as best as I can, so that when I get back out of the bubble of school I’ll feel marginally more prepared for the real world.



I am writing this from a plane as I tour with Classical Jam – a flute, string trio, and percussion ensemble whose members met while working as Teaching Artists in NYC over the past decade. It is a thrill to be on stage with other musicians who are not only really excellent players, but whose vast experience also enables them to walk into any hall, stand in front of any type of audience, and know exactly how to connect with them.

I have spent the last five years training the musicians at the Academy, a program of Carnegie Hall and The Juilliard School, on how to give an “interactive concert”.  However, performing with Classical Jam day after day on this tour made me re-think what the term “interactive concert” really means, and question why it seems to be mostly limited to daytime concerts with the word “Outreach” in the title.

After a big evening concert last night, a lady named Jeanne came up to tell me just how much she loved it.  But she went one step further to say, “It’s not just about how expressive each of you are when you play, or how each particular piece made us feel, but it was also how you genuinely made us feel comfortable – so that it was really OK to interact with you.”

I thought about this and realized how different this comment is from the mindset classical musicians often have when we go out to perform.  Most evening performances in concert halls are of pieces that we simply put out there with the expectation that the audience will listen and be engaged.  If they are having a hard time with a piece, well…then – here are some program notes.

If a musician does introduce a piece, the content is usually biographical, or perhaps they demonstrate a few musical ideas for the audience to listen for.  Even if there are some interactive activities, there is often the expectation from the performer that just because the audience did what they were told, they will listen “successfully” and feel a connection.

But the comment Jeanne made goes beyond that.  Does our presence on the stage genuinely invite the audience to interact with us?   It is said that 70-80% of what we communicate comes from our body language and how we say it.  How often are musicians practicing this before they walk onto the stage?

Perhaps one of the big reasons why classical music audiences are waning is because ensembles and orchestras are not always authentically extending an invitation to audiences to feel comfortable so they can interact with the musicians.

I think back to Italian Opera houses and piano recitals in the living rooms of centuries past.  I highly doubt those audiences refrained from showing exactly how they felt at any given time, and it was expected to be this way.   How did we get to this point where classical music has become so formalized that we have to hold back our applause, sit perfectly still, or be expected to fall in love with music just because someone else deems it to be “a masterpiece”?

There are fewer and fewer people alive out there who have had that “My-mom-took-me-to-see-the-Young-People’s-concert-with-Lenny” moment.  For that generation, this was a powerful moment of true connection – not only because of the music, but because families had history with our music, and they were passing it on to their children while almost all schools still maintained a tradition of instrumental instruction or singing in a choir as part of a well-rounded education.

That is simply not the time we live in right now.

So the onus is on us – the performers.

For the orchestras, this has to come from the administration first.

I am not saying that music no longer has the power to transcend human experience, emotion, or thought – I just think that you can no longer serve it to people like you would a telegram or a court summons and expect them to automatically find meaning.

So, what can we do to immediately break the glass wall between us and the audience?  What can we do beyond the music to keep them engaged throughout a concert?

What can we say, how can we act, and what meaningful interactions can we help create to invite the audience to truly connect with us?

How can all of us strive to have every concert we perform in be the one that someone truly connected with and still talks about 40 years later?

When will every concert, not just the “outreach” ones, be a vehicle for a community to authentically interact with our craft?

Finally, what are YOU going to do about it?


Happy Fall everyone!

Where did the summer go??

I am leading a good handful of Teaching Artist training workshops for both the Academy at Carnegie Hall and at Juilliard this month.  Last week I had to make a hand-out on the finer points of lesson planning when visiting classrooms or teaching small group lessons.  It was a good exercise for me – and I hope it is helpful for you as you plan your year as well!

Jessica 🙂 

1.   Always have a routine warm-up when you come in                  

When you walk in the room, plan to engage your students immediately with call and response sounds, a game, or something physicalized that takes very little thought to participate.  Scaffold your instructions to make it more interesting/complicated each time you visit.  Vary it with a concept that is unique to the lesson you are about to teach.  Students enjoy a routine to help them focus on what is about to come.

2.   Review what you did last time

Your lesson should be 40% review of the material they are building upon and 60% new.  With much younger children, it might be more like 50/50 or 60/40.

3.   Have a moment where they are brainstorming as a class about something new

Find a way to structure your class so there are less moments of “telling”, or lecture.  Learning is more powerful and retainable when discovery comes from within the students themselves.  Instead, what kinds of open-ended questions can you ask to facilitate their learning while gently nudging them towards what you want them to know?

4.   Allow for small group work

 Giving teams musical problems to solve allows them to engage in truly artistic decision- making.  Find a way to challenge them, while clearly communicating your expectations and the steps they need to get there.  When you are reflecting, some folks are just more comfortable discussing in a smaller group or with a single partner. Let their voices be heard by allowing for those moments.

5.   Allow time to perform for one another and reflect on choices

Give some time to share their work and have the remaining students talk about what they notice. The point is not to give “feedback” on the success of their performance, but instead notice the choices that were made.  You can facilitate the conversation in the same way after listening to a recording of what they may see at an upcoming concert or a piece they are learning.  These are great times to subtly weave in what you know as the “expert” by drawing their attention towards certain things, naming them to widen their vocabulary, and/or introducing historical facts.

6.   Engagement before information

As I mentioned above, information should only come after some kind of experience.  Create the desire to learn first before imparting your knowledge and expertise.

7.   Make sure you are always relating their art-making to the art you are introducing to them

Some games and activities are great fun, are very successful, and are great to collect for your “tool kit”.  However, if they don’t directly relate to the concepts you want the students to learn, what was the point?   Ideally, you should custom-create each activity so it is specific to the work of art you are introducing.  All TAs use variations of what they have done before when planning, but good TAs make it seem like this experience was created just for this one moment.

8.   Always tap into their prior knowledge and what they are already enthusiastic about

The activities you come up with should always use what kids already know as a springboard to learn what they don’t know.  You will be even more successful if you are exploring things they really care about (their music, their favorite things, stories they know, etc.) while introducing the concepts you are trying to teach.

 9.   Your success depends on how age-appropriate your lesson is

Another thing good Teaching Artists do is to always take into consideration the age of those they are teaching.  Engaging 4th graders is entirely different from engaging 8th graders.  Elementary kids = more sessions to cover an idea, more modeling, more mini-activities, disguising more activities as games.  Middle/High school = you have about 2.5 seconds to win them over, coolness factor rules, tap into what THEY like/know first, scaffold the activities so you are keeping them engaged by making decisions they care about.

10.              Expect more than you think from children labeled with special needs

They are very capable – do not assume less just because of their “label”.  Many of their daily teachers already do that, to their detriment. They are sometimes more capable than “typical” kids when it comes to noticing patterns/details/imagination.   Allow more time to go deeper, discuss longer, review the same concept with new modality (visual/kinesthetic), since verbal is sometimes their hardest mode of expression.

Building Relationships Online and Off

The past few months have been a whirlwind of performances, workshops, practicing, and planning.

It is easy to forget about keeping in touch with people.  It is also easy to forget how important it is to be mindful of the kinds of interactions you are having with people – both online and off.

I read an article the other day about how many companies feel they have to send their new young employees to training programs on basic grammar skills.  People are so used to informally addressing others while texting and emailing, or while on Facebook and Twitter, that many are forgetting how to write properly.  This can easily create bad impressions with new colleagues and employers, ruin marketing materials, and cause communication errors.

Since everything is done on the fly (how fast can I finish this note before the subway door opens?), people are spending less time thoughtfully considering the contents of an email.  Or, since we are so focused on the next rehearsal/meeting/concert/etc, we are not bothering to follow up with those we have just met.

I also read a wonderful blog by Ted Rubin on a new term they are coining in the business world called “ROR”, or “Return on Relationship”.  In the past, the emphasis was on “ROI” (return of investment – actual dollars and cents made)  Now, businesses are realizing that it is the relationship a client has with a product or company that spreads the good word – leading to more sales, while defining your “value”.


So, how does this apply to musicians?

Well, we are proving our value every time we interact with our colleagues/potential employers.

Are we choosing to be helpful and proactive?  Are we choosing to be part of the solution instead of part of a problem?  Are we addressing and responding to others in a thoughtful way?

These are the qualities that increase your value to anyone hiring you or wishing to collaborate with you as a musician – whether as a member of string quartet, as a teacher at a summer festival, or as a player for a seemingly random recording session.

Take a moment to read this article by Mr. Rubin, and think about how we, as musicians, can consistently increase our ROR – so that we may always be doing what we want to be doing.


Jessica  🙂