Archive for the ‘Cello’ Category

I never thought I’d say this, but I am HUGELY relieved to have – for the first time in my life, starting this September – a regularly scheduled, Monday-Friday, 8 AM – 4 PM job.  Yes, a real job!  Consistency, benefits, paid holidays, health insurance…but most importantly — regular and PREDICTABLE hours!  As a musician (and yes, this is indeed a music job), I pretty much never thought this would appeal to me so much.  My reasons are below.  (I hope this post doesn’t come off as my just wanting to write about myself…it’s really to show a fresh perspective on musicians becoming employed in a way that leads to consistency.  What a novel idea!) 😉

I did 12 years of higher education, 11 years of which were spent making money with a variety of colorful (or boring) jobs, most notably teaching part-time at 3 different music academies (these were not the boring jobs, trust me!), a couple music festivals, gigging, and doing a too-brief 3-semester stint as NYU adjunct.  None of the above brought me very much money, with the exception of a relatively small handful of gigs that were fun, rewarding, and quite memorable.  Now, money was never a reason for going into music.  It sounds cliche, but let’s face it — unless you want and actually have the ability to be Yo Yo Ma or Paul McCartney — the money may or may not be okay…maybe “decent” is a better word.  I went through a couple years where I was gigging and teaching a lot, and got enormous satisfaction from actually getting by as a “working musician,” all the while moving towards finishing my last degree.  So it’s totally do-able, and I know some musicians around my age who appear to be extremely successful at doing what they do best — being musicians.  So this blog is not to get dark on being a musician or to sound woeful about the difficulties of being a freelancer.  BUT…it’s a hard life for most of us, I’m not gonna lie.

But believe it or not, money is not the main motivation in my deciding to write this.  What bugs me beyond belief and is literally the bane of my existence?  SCHEDULING.  Scheduling anything!  Gigs, rehearsals, social plans, trips, time with my husband, time to see our families.  It’s all an uphill battle.  Now, granted some of this is because I had to take a very irregular “day job” (quotations are appropriate because I basically work the night shift at this freakin’ place), which has me on a different schedule every week.  But nonetheless, scheduling has always, always, always been difficult.  Why?  Because there has never — NEVER — been any sort of regularity with my schedule.  Sure, I taught Mondays for 5 years.  But other than that?  Forget about it.  Always different.  Always stressful.  A friend emails to get together?  Oh gosh.  So difficult scheduling things that are really, at the end of the day, so terribly important.

So a “9-5”?  Now, my future “9-5” does not involve my being in a cubicle or spending excessive time on the computer (at least, I don’t think so) or sitting alone for long periods of time under florescent lights.  It’s music-oriented, has me taking my cello to work, teaching, playing, working with people, that kind of thing, which sounds so wonderful to me.  I was hired because of my qualifications, so there’s automatically a nice feeling of having been hired for the “right” reasons.  But what is a key thing I am most looking forward to?  A friend calling me to get together and here is my response: “I’m back in the city by 5:30-ish Monday-Friday…oh!  And I have Good Friday off, so why don’t we get together then?  Or maybe the following Wednesday around 7:00?  8th Street Wine Cellar?  Perfect, let’s do it!”  Or someone calls me for a Saturday gig.  My answer: “Sure, I’m always free Saturdays!  And ya know what?  Your group should play at my new place of work!  I’ll try to work that out!”  Omg.  Could it get any better?!?!

My husband and I have occasionally knocked 9-5-ers I think because we’ve viewed that lifestyle as “settling” in some way.  Like it’s boring or it doesn’t represent the “artistic life” or the “passionate life.”  There may be some truth to that, I’m not gonna lie.  But I think everyone reaches their limit on unpredictability — what will January look like?  What will April look like?  Well, we just don’t know, do we?  Ugh, I’m over it!   I’m a Taurus, I know, but still!  So stressful!

I’ll re-evaluate my “9-5” after I’ve been in it for a while, but in the meantime, I am VERY excited about the prospect of a new way of life, and I feel very, very lucky right now.  And I think my free time will be creatively utilized, thanks to these scheduling regularties…  To be continued…

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Post defense celebration at Otto!

My committee: Ron Sadoff, Cathy Benedict, Christina Marin

One of my dear cellist friends gave someone my email because she (my cellist friend) thought I would have some interesting words of wisdom re. her friend’s interest in doing a doctorate in music performance (specifically violin performance).  Since I officially passed my dissertation defense 2 days ago (YAY!!!), I figured now was probably a good time to do a blog post on what I actually think about getting a PhD in music performance (versus a DMA, for example, which oddly seems to have turned into the world’s most sought-after music performance degree).  Now, this begs a serious disclaimer: I am just now finishing my degree, so the question of “how does this degree work for you, how does this degree create work opportunities that allow you to gain back the thousands of dollars, not to mention blood, sweat, & tears you’ve expended in pursuance of the infamous PhD” is unfortunately unanswered at this point.  Give me a year or 2 & I’ll (hopefully!) be able to begin to answer those questions.

In the meantime, this is how I responded when I got an email from this violinist:

Thanks for your email!  I’m always happy to talk with people who are interested in the PhD program AND you happened to write me the day after I passed my dissertation defense.  So I’m in good spirits!!!

A PhD program in music performance is just like a PhD program in other academic areas EXCEPT that you have performance requirements.  So the academic load can be heavy, candidacy exams are intense & stressful, and the dissertation is heavily research-based.  If you’re not interested in research or contributing to knowledge in music at the scholarly level, then I would say go with a DMA.  With that said, the PhD is the gold standard of education across the board…but in terms of actually playing your instrument, it may give you more opportunities for private study & recitals, but a PhD really is an academically research-based degree.  You’re up there with PhD-ers in psychology, art history, computer science, sociology, etc.  It was years of blood, sweat, & tears…in a nutshell, a monstrous amount of work and ate my life away at times.  But I would never take it back for anything.

Many, many, many people have DMAs these days.  VERY few have PhDs in music performance.  But I’ve always been a bit on the fringes with my interests and it’s not something I would recommend to many people.  My dissertation was on classically-trained cellist-improvisers and how they have resisted the hegemony of classical music indoctrinated in their conservatory training.  So it was very sociological, very psychological, and involved a HUGE amount of heavy academic theory.  Not everyone goes that route, of course.  You could just as easily study some little-explored aspect of 18th century violin performance practice if you wanted!  NYU is a very progressive, very open-minded place to be, so I’ve seen dissertations from all sorts of areas.

But I feel one has to have a commitment to contributing to greater knowledge in academia and beyond.  If you’re only interested in becoming a better violinist or to teach violin and only violin (which is noble, don’t get me wrong!), then I would say go the DMA route.  A PhD can be an arduous journey and some people take forever to do it.  I took 6 years.

I hope this doesn’t sound dark!  Like I said, I wouldn’t take my experience with this back for anything.  It’s something you carry with you forever, and not a lot of people have this degree.  NYU doesn’t have much scholarship funding, at least they didn’t for me.  Huge downer, but I made it work somehow.  And I’m glad I did!

So that concludes my email to this person.  Now, I censored a few things.  1) the topic about 18th century violin performance sounds BORING AS HELL, but people do indeed suffer through that kind of research.  Not to mention, that just doesn’t seem like important research to me, but who am I to say.  2) This degree is stresssssssfulllll.  I have talked to a small handful of people who kind of swim through it without much drama, but that was not the case with me.  3) I’ve heard many a story about DMA programs & they sound ACADEMICALLY IDIOTIC to me and totally unimpressive on every level (except that I have no doubt they attract very strong players, which is the point, I guess).  Sorry.  I hate to brandish such apparent snobbery, but it just sounds sooooo easy.  Those programs basically sound like an extension of your Master’s degree, and I’ve known some total morons with DMAs.  Wow, did I just say that?

A PhD is a RESEARCH-BASED DEGREE.  Yes, you do 2-3 semesters of chamber music; yes, you do private lessons; yes, you do 2 recitals.  And all that is great!  But just get ready for major, major reading, writing, research.  That’s what it’s about in the end.  And working your ass off for a loooonnnng time & forking over probably way too much money to a school that should really be helping YOU out.  I mean, that’s how it is in music.  These programs don’t seem to have much money sitting around.

A dear friend of mine in the PhD program in anthropology (also at NYU) has a totally different scenario with grants & what-not.  Lucky devil.

I think the bottom line to all of this is: you have to have a burning passion for creating & sharing new & hopefully meaningful research, new ideas in the academy & beyond.  If this commitment isn’t there, go get a DMA & stay in the cave of a practice room for another 6 years.

Finally, let me say, I LOVED my dissertation committee.  They were totally amazing all around.  And I love, love, love Marion Feldman, my cello teacher.  Surrounding yourself with these sorts of awesome people is key.  But getting a PhD can be a lonely road.  I spent many, many, many hours alone in my apartment, slaving away in front of the computer.  But now I can look back with nostalgia.  Isn’t that always how it is?

Happy summer!

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pure awesomeness

Purely from a musical perspective (interpersonal dynamics aside), if there’s any band I would really, really love to be in, it would be Rasputina.  I have what could be construed as a corny, melodramatic glow-in-the-dark Rasputina sticker on my cello case, which says “Cello Magic” with a beautiful graphic of an eye, plus two bows crossed a la pirate swords.  I brandish it on my case because I kind of feel like it gets to the root of my love of the cello & my idea of the “perfect artistic-musical-theatrical aesthetic.”  The cello is a dark magic, and anyone who appreciates this type of aesthetic knows exactly what I’m talking about.  And Rasputina embodies that pretty head-on.

I first discovered them my freshman year of college back in 1998, in the throes of my first “real” romantic relationship…In fact, every time I listen to Rasputina’s masterpiece, “Thanks for the Ether,” I can’t help but remember heading home to Asheville in unceasing tears because my older, French-cellist boyfriend had dumped me.  Oh, the angst!  …I know…we’ve all been there.   I still find, “Rusty the Skatemaker,” one of the most beautiful tunes ever composed, but I’ll never forget the tragedy associated with that song!  Trust me, I can laugh about it.  But the song remains one of my favorites of all time.  What a moment in the history of the cello, along with “Any Old Actress,” off the same record.  I still find “Thanks for the Ether” to be my favorite Rasputina record.  I also love “Oh Perilous World.”  I mean, I love all their stuff, but “Thanks for the Ether” seems to have the most classical influence, which also seems to have the creepiest, coolest, most melancholic effect.

Being such a versatile instrument, cello is used in so many genres & in so many different ways.  But I really think that Rasputina has done something with the cello that is very specific and very beautiful: it’s a very particular sound, particular style, of which the genre seems for the most part relatively undefinable…I mean, unless you want to call it “slightly gothy, neo-classical/romantic, melancholic, melodramatic poetic rock.”  It kind of takes you to a different time, a different century, and I don’t think it’s because of Melora Creager’s taste for corsets & Victorian boots.  This probably sounds so incredibly cliche to those who are into this kind of aesthetic, but seriously — it’s like Tim Burton meets Neil Gaiman meets Edgar Allen Poe meets Sylvia Plath meets the Bach D minor Suite for solo cello meets the Shostakovich 1st cello concerto….embellished with sexy 19th-century female attire and a really, really unique female singer.

Anyway, I love, love, love Rasputina & I was happy to discover that their newest cellist, Daniel DeJesus, is a bad ass cellist & a great singer.

In Old Yellowcake…such a bad ass song (good running song + a nice “celli soli” section of sorts):

“Any Old Actress” off Rasputina’s groundbreaking record, “Thanks for the Ether”:

Rusty the Skatemaker:

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Examining data...and probably reaching a state of perplexedness at some lame-o sentence I wrote 2 years ago...

I’ve decided to include a relatively small blurb on the research I am undertaking for my PhD.  My blog, as many of you know, began as a purely fun endeavor, a way to talk (and perhaps dialog with people) about things in life about which I am passionate…namely, music, food, & wine, with the occasional nature or holiday-inspired essay.

Now I’ve decided to include some information regarding my dissertation research, perhaps mostly for people close to me who aren’t 100% sure of what I’m doing exactly.  Totally understandable, no doubt.  I wake up each day with the assumption that most people’s eyes will glaze over the second I start talking about said research.

But I am also doing this for the cellists who agreed to be part of this study and were so generous with their time and were so articulate in discussing their experiences with music, school, and improvising.

Please be aware: the following is a synopsis and only begins to touch on the purposes behind my research.  It is actually very helpful to me to be able to summarize this without a tremendous amount of explanation.

My research deals with issues of ideology, hegemony, resistance, and identity construction in the experiences of classically trained cellist-improvisers.  Through interviews with five cellists, I investigate how identity construction is related to performativity (that is, actually performing music, though ‘performativity’ refers to much more than just that) and also to established institutional hegemonies, namely the hegemony of classical music indoctrinated in conservatory training.

To clarify: Certain groups constitute counter-hegemonies,meaning that they resist the established paradigms (“norms”) inherent in the ideology.  (I keep thinking of the Sex Pistols, so those who know them…well, keep that in mind).  Through this “resistance,” their identities evolve and subsequently new paradigms evolve, and the established systems (i.e. music conservatories in this case) are challenged.  By examining the existing ideologies–and also by understanding how and why certain groups choose to challenge certain hegemonies within the ideologies–we can move forward and transform reality through critical ways of being (thinking, reading, listening, performing, acting).  If we can understand our individual realities as directly relating to the intricacies of our history, background, education, etc., we can see ourselves in the broader scope of society.  Through this understanding, change can occur on personal and institutional levels.

Moral of the story: roll with the times…and if you don’t, someone or something is going to push you out of the way, rendering you obsolete.  …I could quote Bob Dylan here, but I’ll refrain…okay, okay, it’s just too perfect:

The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast

The slow one now will later be fast

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’

So I would like to thank the cellists who are involved in this project.  My research wouldn’t be what it is without the experiences of these musicians:

1. Stephanie Winters

2. Will Martina

3. Tomas Ulrich

4. Jody Redhage

5. Daniel Levin

(I will do another blog post, if they’re in favor of my including them, that will give more information on them as individuals, their work, etc.).

Gotta love Butler!

Butler's Gender Trouble - key source for exploring issues of identity construction

Gramsci, Freire, & Adult Education: Possibilities for Transformative Action

Paulo Freire...please don't be worried that this has the word "oppressed" in the title...I realize the text is backwards thanks to my computer's 'photo booth.' The book is called Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Afterthought:  All my life I have been fascinated by institutions and people who went against the grain (pardon the cliche).  Kids who talked back to teachers, the “alternative” crowd at Reynolds High School in Asheville, NC, of which my sister was a part (and I would have been a part had I not gone through that rebellion rather early on), the punk movement, any music that sounded innovative to my ears, sex stores geared towards women’s freedom & education,  you name it.  I tend to be attracted to most things considered to be “on the fringes”…with the exception of the hipster “movement”…wait, is it even a movement?  I mean, come on.  And sadly, the impression I get is that hipsters love to think they’re “on the fringes,” but they’re just fooling themselves.  And maybe I’m fooling myself, but I’ve always felt like an outsider.  And as I get a little older, I realize how much I appreciate that about myself.  And even more importantly than that, how much I appreciate that in other people.  And now I’m lucky enough to be writing about people who are literally changing the course of history.

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