Five Tips for Thriving on a Touring Show

Today’s Five Things Friday post was written by trumpet player Christi Wans.

Christi is a freelance trumpet player and soloist based in the Oklahoma City area, and is currently traveling with the national/Asia tour of Kinky Boots. She holds Bachelor’s degrees in music education and trumpet performance from Central Washington University, as well as a Masters and DMA (ABD) from the University of Oklahoma.

 


For the last year, I have been traveling with the North American tour of Kinky Boots. The show has a great message, the music was written by Cyndi Lauper, and I’m getting to see parts of the country I never thought I would see. Most importantly? I have a full time job, with benefits, where all I have to do is play my trumpet.

That being said, it’s not always the most glamorous life. There are several things I have learned to help me survive: Continue reading

Five Tips to Combat Impostor Syndrome – by Mariel Bildsten

Mariel Bildsten is a trombonist, based in New York City. Mariel works as a bandleader and side-woman in New York, playing in jazz big bands and small groups, as well as world and Caribbean music, classical, funk, r&b, and Latin music bands. She has performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, the Chicago Jazz Festival, Perth International Arts Festival, Caramoor Jazz Festival, Smalls Jazz Club, and Smoke Jazz Club, among other venues. Mariel has also performed alongside Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roy Hargrove, Wycliffe Gordon, Frank Lacy, Brian Lynch, Cyrus Chestnut, and Lew Soloff. Her own groups (ranging from duo to septet) have headlined jazz festivals, played around the country, and gig regularly in New York City. She graduated from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in December 2015. During her time there, Mariel had the opportunity to study with fantastic teachers and mentors, such as Elliot Mason, Steve Turre, Vincent Gardner, Mike LeDonne, Reginald Workman, and Jane Ira Bloom.

Photo credit to Lauren Desberg

In 1978, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes named impostor syndrome as a feeling of “phoniness or fraud in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” Impostor syndrome presents itself through chronic self-doubt and feeling unworthy of opportunities. 

It is a thought-process that we all deal with, to varying degrees. Even as I’m writing this blog post, I’m telling myself “Mariel, who are you kidding? You’re not a writer, go and practice trombone!” 

Here are 5 tips to combat impostor syndrome. 

1. Remember that you are there for a reason
Whether “there” is a gig, rehearsal, recording session, teaching position, or conversation, people who struggle with impostor syndrome will look around and say “How the hell am I here? I am a fraud. This must be a mistake.”  Continue reading

Five Questions to Recent Music Graduates – by Kate Amrine

Today’s post is by our very own Kate Amrine – she felt inspired to do some end of semester reflecting after seeing so many friends, colleagues and students graduating. 

A passionate and creative performer, Kate Amrine is a prominent trumpet player balancing a multifaceted career from developing new repertoire and curating concerts to freelancing with many different groups in the New York City area. Recent performances include a tour of Japan with the New York Symphonic Ensemble, a solo recital in Mississippi at the Music by Women Festival, and an opera at BAM with string ensemble A Far Cry. Upcoming performances include new music with orchestra at Carnegie Hall and the Miller Theater, a workshop of a new off Broadway show by Duncan Sheik, a concerto in her hometown in Maryland, and a concerto and orchestra tour to Japan. Kate is extremely dedicated to commissioning and performing new music, premiering over 30 pieces both as a soloist and a chamber musician. Her debut album was released in November 2017 and features new music by women composers. Kate also frequently performs on Broadway and in other regional musical theater productions both in and outside of the NYC area. As an educator, Kate enjoys teaching in several after school music programs and teaches private trumpet lessons as an Adjunct Instructor at New York University. 


1. What do you want to do?
This is perhaps the most obvious question of them all. I am sure we have all heard this from friends, family, teachers, and even people at the grocery store. But it is super important to think about – even if what you want is “unrealistic.” Thinking about your version of an ideal career can open your eyes up to what is possible, what would be the best case scenario, what you are willing to do to get here, and what you don’t want to be doing at all.. Also, don’t be afraid to think big – what would be the best case scenario for your career – it could be something like winning a job, playing with a certain famous musician, or giving recitals across the country. Similarly, don’t be afraid to think “small” – sometimes what you want to do could be as simple as recording an album in the year after graduating or starting a group with friends. Having goals of different sizes aimed for different points of your career is definitely the way to do it. Continue reading

Five Subtle Sexist Things You’ll Encounter in Your Career (and how to address them)

Lauren Husting, trombone, is a low brass teaching artist working in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota. She performs on tenor trombone with the jazz-infused Scottish/Irish traditional band Brass Lassie, plays bass trombone with the Adam Meckler Orchestra, and is a freelancer in all genres from classical and chamber to jazz, pop, and contemporary. Adjunct faculty at Hamline University in St Paul, Lauren also manages an active studio of learners ranging from beginner to advanced, middle school to adult, and works to provide private lesson opportunities for low-income students in her region. She is committed to building community among women in the local and regional music scene, and encouraging all her students to develop healthy and creative ways to make music in their lives.

Lauren received her Masters in Trombone Performance from the University of North Texas in 2007, and her Bachelors in Trombone Performance from the University of Wisconsin in 2003. She can be found online at laurenhusting.com and is on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Thanks Lauren for sharing this post with us!


I’ve talked to very few women musicians in my life who claim to have never experienced bias or sexism while at work or in training. Most of us, at some point, will be on the receiving end of chauvinistic behaviors ranging the gamut from subtle to severe. In many cases it may just be a person unaccustomed to speaking to professional women, or an older colleague with a slightly outdated mindset who doesn’t really mean any harm. But even the smallest offenses can be exhausting and discouraging for us.

There are ways to fight back, if you can recognize the symptoms. Here are five categories of bias that I’ve encountered in my career, and ways in which I’ve managed the situation. In no way is this an exhaustive list; let’s keep the conversation going!

 

  1. Patronizing comments/disbelief in your competence AKA “You play pretty good for a girl”

The classic. Someone just can’t seem to get over the fact that you play well, and they want to know exactly how you got your skill. It might be just an offhand comment or an awkward way to start a conversation with you, but sometimes it can manifest as utter disbelief in your ability. When that happens, it can feel pretty insidious and disconcerting. Sometimes it feels like they don’t think you actually understand how you got there yourself, or that it’s all luck or talent.  I’ve usually answered with responses that are a variation on “here are my credentials” (and sometimes with a snarky “Well, I’ve got lungs and arms and a pair of ears, so…”). The best way to fight it is with action: continue to play your best, speak your opinion, and act professionally. Continue reading

Five Lessons from my Embouchure Change

This week’s Five Things Friday post comes to us from trumpet player and recent high school graduate, Katherine Idleman. Katherine recently decided to undertake an embouchure change, and has chosen to share what that transition has taught her. Thanks to Katherine for writing!

Katherine's HeadshotKatherine Idleman is 18 years old and will be majoring in music education at Bucknell University this fall. She plans to join the many ensembles at Bucknell and hopes to become a band director for a middle and/or high school. She has played trumpet for 8 years and is learning trombone, clarinet, and saxophone as well. Katherine was a member of the Intermediate Wind Symphony and Jazz Band at Interlochen Arts Camp
in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, she was a member of the World Youth Wind Symphony and trumpet institute at Interlochen. Katherine was chosen to conduct the famous Interlochen Theme. This summer, she is going to be a camp counselor at Interlochen. She was also a member of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra for two years. She became a member of MYSO’s flagship orchestra, the Senior Symphony, her second year. She was a member of her high school’s concert, jazz and pep band and conducted her high school band for a band arrangement of the Finale
from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite at her last concert. She is an avid advocate for music education and currently volunteers her time raising money for and teaching music at the Albert E. Kagel school in Milwaukee, shadowing band directors throughout Wisconsin and playing for churches in her community.


“You need to change your embouchure:” These are words no brass player ever wants to hear. I had gotten used to hearing it, though, and it made me upset every time. I knew that changing my embouchure meant I was going to sound like a beginner again but I could never find a convenient time to take a few weeks up to many months to go through this process. However, one day I told myself, you know what, it’s either now or never, and I am so glad I did. Continue reading

Five Ways to Make your Emails More Effective

Monica Benson is freelance trumpet player and music educator in the Chicagoland area. Her enthusiasm and experience ranges from classical to contemporary, from rock and indie to pop music, and the occasional musical. Known for her professional work in the Chicago area, Monica has performed with multiple ensembles and bands from all over including the Brass Band of Battle Creek, The Illinois Brass Band, all-female 60s pop cover band The Bangers, and indie band The Generationals. During the summer months Monica can be found at The Arlington International Racecourse, playing the “Call To Post” as the official Arlington Bugler. Along with an active freelance career, Monica also teaches in the DePaul Community Music School’s Chicago Public Schools outreach program during the school year and the Sistema Ravinia program during the summer. Monica is currently working on her Master’s degree in Music at DePaul University.

I know an article about emailing can seem about as exciting as an article about office plants, but trust me when I say being a good communicator will help you get and keep gigs. Do I have your attention now? Whether you think you are or not, you are a business. Part of your business as a musician is being in contact with others who could potentially hire you. As much as musicians would like to think their lives are “all about the music,” wouldn’t it be nice if the music made you some money? As a student and freelance trumpet player in the Chicago area I have learned many things about corresponding with different groups and venues as both a musician and contractor. Below, I have compiled five things that have helped make my emails more effective and, in turn, helped me get and keep gigs. Happy emailing everyone!

1. Respond in a timely manner.

This is probably the easiest, and most fixable, thing you can do to increase your professionalism with regards to email. In this day and age, there is really no reason why it should take more than 24 hours to respond to an email. The old “so sorry my week got away from me” or “this email slipped by me on accident” is not such a valid excuse anymore. If you have never used an excuse like this to save face after a late email response, you are either: 1. Lying to yourself or 2. A magical being that exists only in folklore and on carefully curated Instagram pages. With email at our fingertips 24/7, it is easier than ever to keep up with electronic correspondence. Of course, we have all had weeks where email is the last thing on our minds (we are musicians after all). If it is not possible to respond with a valid or thoughtful response within the 24-hour time frame, send the recipient an email stating that you received their email and need to gather more information before properly answering their question. This way, the person knows you have at least received their email and are actively working on a response for them. However, it is important to consider that your timeliness could be the difference between getting the gig or the gig passing you by.

From a contractor’s perspective, musicians who are good communicators are hidden gems.  At the racetrack where I work during the summer, I am often in charge of hiring other musicians. Communication with the people I hire is key. If someone is difficult to communicate with I will most likely not hire them again. The piece of mind that is created when you are working with someone who is professional and prompt is far more important than having the best player. Don’t get me wrong, the musicianship has to be there too, but I would rather hire a good communicator than a musical prodigy. Gigs can be stressful, and to be worried about whether or not your musicians will be on time or be able to find the gig just adds unnecessary anxiety.

 

2. Establish all pertinent information in the first correspondence.

Recently, I received an email that read like this: “Monica, are you interested and/or available to play the (name of concert) on (date) at (venue). I have 10 pieces.” Notice anything that’s missing? I can’t tell you how many emails like this I have received. Emails like this are incredibly frustrating for most musicians because of the lack of information. In the above email there is no information regarding time, rehearsals, pay, or personnel. This made it impossible for me to give a definitive yes or no to this gig right away. By not including all the information in the first email, an extended back and forth correspondence was created just to determine the details of the gig itself. Not to mention, after finally getting all the information deciding if I was available for the gig. Listing all the logistical information in the first email is key when hiring musicians for an engagement. If all the information is presented up front, it makes for a quicker response time from both parties and streamlines the hiring process.

3. Don’t be an askhole.

Although having all the information is a very important part of determining the success of a gig, there is a right and wrong way to gather information from a contractor. For example, say you are unclear about what the dress is for the gig. You thought it was concert black but have a nagging feeling it’s black pants/white shirt. Before shooting an email to the contractor, look back through previous correspondence. This question could have been addressed in a previous email. If the question is still unanswered, check the email recipients to see if you recognize a colleague’s name. It is possible to ask your colleague if they have any info that will help answer your question. If you still strike out on this front, compile all unanswered questions you have into one email and send it to the contractor. It is not ideal to ask a question about something that has already been discussed in a previous discussion, whether in person or via email. This makes you seem disorganized and unprofessional. Contractors are typically very busy people, so the less you need from them, the easier you make their job. The amount of info you will need to feel comfortable on a gig will vary from gig to gig. Some contractors send all the info right away, others will be like the above email. Be as proactive as possible about your role on the gig before including the contractor. You will be surprised how often we can answer our own questions. Some deductive reasoning and a little help from Google can go a long way.  

 

4. Be concise.

As mentioned above, contractors and musicians are busy and usually working on multiple projects at a time (such is the nature of the job). Very few people have the time or desire to read an email novel. There is a way to be concise without being rude. If you feel like you need to include paragraphs of niceties to make your voice via email less curt, don’t. A simple, “Thanks! Please let me know if you need any more information from me.”  is just as polite as a long-winded response. What most people don’t know is that people would rather read the shorter emails. When you think about the emails that take the longest to respond to, they are usually the ones that are on the longer side. It’s very easy to procrastinate on longer emails because it is more information to sift through. With gig information, try to include everything in the email or subject line instead of in an attachment. The fewer places a musician has to go to get the info they need the better. If everything is included in one email in one spot, it is much more efficient.

5. Be appreciative.

In regards to politeness via email, I end every email with a short “thank you” or “thanks.” This goes a long way. By including a thank you or a “please let me know if you need anything else from me” you seem flexible and easy to work with. Also, if someone is offering you a gig, thank them! They didn’t have to ask you for that gig, but they did, so it is perfectly acceptable to extend a word of thanks. Even if you are unable to take the gig that is offered to you thank them anyway. A simple “thank you for thinking of me, please keep me in mind for future opportunities” is the best way to help ensure future correspondence with that person.  Affecting an attitude of gratitude will not only make you stand out, but it will also make your career much more enjoyable. We are very lucky that we get the opportunity to play music for a living, either full time or part time, and the people who help provide us with opportunities to make music deserve our thanks.

Five Tips for Diving into the Freelancing Scene

Diana Allan is a current NYC based freelancer. She recently graduated from Mannes School of Music in 2015 with her M.M. Studying with David Jolley. Previously she obtained her B.M. in Music Education K-12 from Mansfield University and studied with Rebecca Dodson- Webster. In the midst of gaining both degrees, she doesn’t stop there. Diana is currently working on her professional Studies degree at Mannes where she will graduate next spring 2019 with her third degree.

At the beginning of this year Diana was the founder of the NYC based horn quartet, Quartado. They will be making their debut recital this upcoming June at Darling coffee. Also this past year, Diana was Co-founder of the group 13th and Broadway. Musicians gathered to read through different broadway shows. They will also be making their debut cabaret recital this upcoming May at The Mannes School of Music.

  1. Introduce yourself

Whether you’re in school or not, introduce yourself to new people; tell them what you play, what you do and what you’re about. You’ll be shocked that months later you might get an email or phone call from them for a potential gig or project.

        2. Ask Questions

Find people who are freelancing and playing the gigs. How they got they, who connected them, are they looking for players or subs? Obviously ask within reason, but the questions are endless and important to carving your path.

        3. Learn from the spotlight

Take lessons from people who are doing what you want to do. ie, broadway pit musicians, The Met, a well know quartet or trio etc.

        4. Have a calendar

One of the most important things that I’ve come to realize in my every day life is my agenda. It’s like my bible. There’s always the debate digital vs paper. Personally I use both. Both it’s so important to at least have one spot where you wrote all your gigs down and the rehearsals/performances that come with them. Nothing’s worse than double booking yourself.

          5. Unpaid or cheap gigs? Take them at first. Make connections.

That’s where it all starts. From there you’ll create a network. You’ll start to realize even though NY is a big city, the community is small and well known.

A Five Minute Flow for Five Things Friday

This week’s Five Things Friday post comes to us from Dr. Kate Umble Smucker, who you may remember from her post, Five Yoga Poses to Release Neck and Shoulder Tension, on Brass Chicks last October. This week, she has produced a great video of a five-minute evening yoga flow!

IMG_0345-2Dr. Kate Umble Smucker is a trumpet player and music educator based in New York City. She currently plays with Calliope Brass Quintet and teaches trumpet at the Music Conservatory of Westchester. Kate is also a 200 hour registered yoga teacher. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge of yoga with fellow musicians so they too can experience the benefits she has enjoyed by incorporating yoga practice with trumpet practice. 

Kate is a dreamer who loves to bring big ideas to life. Working with Calliope Brass, Kate assisted in the development of the educational show, “What’s Your Story?” She is a founding member of Spark Brass, a brass and percussion ensemble dedicated to promoting the positive impact of music education. She is also the founding artistic director of Lancaster New Sounds, a concert series that showcases new music by living composers. Her love of jazz prompted her to put together and lead the 18-piece King Street Big Band which is still active in Lancaster, PA.

Kate holds a Doctorate in Trumpet Performance from the University of Missouri in Kansas City, a Masters of Music from the University of North Texas, and a Bachelor of Music Education (K-12 instrumental) and a Bachelor in Trumpet Performance from the University of Northern Colorado. Her primary teachers were Dr. Keith Benjamin, Professor Keith Johnson and Dr. Robert Murray.


Hello Brass Chicks!

For this Five Things Friday, as your brass musician/yogi in residence, I decided to create a five minute flow you can use to unwind at the end of a long day. Think of it as a way to give your body a hug and say, “Good job body! You’re amazing! Keep up the good work!”

I really enjoyed making this video and I hope you find it helpful. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any requests for poses to release or strengthen certain areas. I am also available to travel to you for a private customized yoga session, or to work with you and a few friends. You can get in touch via email: kateumble@gmail.com

Namaste 🙏
Kate Umble Smucker

Five Tips for a Productive Practice Session

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Horn player Kelsey Ross is an active performer and educator currently based in New York City. Prior to moving to NYC, Kelsey earned both her M.M. and B.M. degrees from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, as a student of Denise Tryon (former fourth horn, Philadelphia Orchestra). While in Baltimore, she recorded the music of Kevin Puts and Aaron Jay Kernis under the direction of Marin Alsop and has recorded pieces by emerging composers with the Peabody Wind Ensemble for Naxos Records. She was also a founding member of both the Brassanova Brass Quintet and Harbor City Wind Quintet which performed at venues throughout the Baltimore area.

Recently, Kelsey made her Carnegie Hall debut performing with the New York String Orchestra under conductor Jaime Laredo. Kelsey has also participated in the Domaine Forget summer festival in Quebec and the Barry Tuckwell Institute in Colorado. She has played in master classes with David Cooper, Radovan Vlatkovic, Frøydis Ree Wekre, Gail Williams, Barry Tuckwell, Abel Pereira, and the American Horn Quartet.


1. Have clear, specific goals

I’ve found that the best way to keep myself productive is to be as specific as possible with my goals. When I first got to school, there were so many different parts of my playing that I wanted to work on, and I did not know where to begin. Thankfully, my teacher helped me define goals to work towards so that I was focusing on just a few things at a time. For some people, these goals could be anything from cleaning up articulations to strengthening loud playing in the high range. For many people, the goal is as simple as winning an audition. Whatever your goal is, write it down.

2. Create a plan – and stick to it

Now that you have your goals in mind, it’s time to create a plan of action to reach them. If your goal is to win an audition, what do you need to do to get to that point? Figure out how much time each day you will dedicate to your audition excerpts, how far in advance you will start working on the excerpts, at what point you will start playing mock auditions, and how many you will play each day/week. Schedule out each step leading up to your goal and again, write out your plan so that every time you start a practice session you know exactly what to work on. No more aimless practicing.

3. Find a friend to keep you accountable.
Sometimes it can be hard to keep up the motivation, which is why I like to partner with a friend to keep me accountable in sticking with my plan. While I was in school, my friends and I would keep each other motivated to wake up early and practice before most of our peers were even awake. Knowing that my friends were also waking up and getting work done motivated me to do the same. Surround yourself with positive, hard-working people who inspire you, and you’ll be motivated to be as productive as they are!

4. Eliminate distractions

The more focused you are, the more productive your practice session will be. If possible, find a quiet place to practice and put your phone on airplane mode so you’re not tempted to check your notifications. If you can’t resist your phone, put it outside of your room and use a separate tuner/metronome to practice. Figure out what time of day you are the most focused. For me, this is early in the morning and late afternoon. Therefore, I try to schedule most of my practicing during those times to maximize my focused energy.

5. Record yourself  

It can be difficult to evaluate the larger picture of your own playing, especially when you are focusing on specific details of your technique. Recording is a great way to hear your playing from someone else’s perspective. When you record yourself and listen back, you can notice things that you might not hear while you are playing your instrument. I’ve found that recording myself every day has made my practice sessions more efficient because it helps me pinpoint exactly what I need to work on, which allows me to set specific goals for my practice sessions.

P.S. Every so often, take a step back and notice your improvements. Remember to celebrate the small wins!